Dan Firewatch Mask, Ivory Coast, a hollowed mask, sightly open mouth, full lips, saddle nose, framed by two tube-like bulging eyes, the right eye covert with an aluminum sheet, on the left eye the decoration is missing, with a prominent forehead, pierced through for attachments at the rim, which is partly fragmentary; blackened, glossy patina.
This mask belongs to the category of ‘Zakpai ge’ mask, an active and aggressive mask that serves a number of functions. It is a ‘firewatch’ mask that insures proper use of cooking fires by women and will throw sticks and things about and knock over cookpots with their meals into the fires and may even beat the women if they were careless in their use of fire. In the past it also served as a war mask. This is a classic example of traditional mask with a dynamic profile of the face with details such as round open eyes, a toothy mouth with prominent lips.
The Dan, historically a warrior people, are thought to have been in the Ivory Coast area for perhaps two thousand years, though the evidence for this is scant. It is known however that the Dan were heavily preyed upon by slave raiders in the 17/18th century, and the creation of Liberia in 1847 was marked by the repatriation of large numbers of them. These returning ex-slaves eventually outnumbered their relatives in the Ivory Coast, and that is still the case today. The Dan have no centralized government, and each village is relatively autonomous. The ability to accumulate wealth and prove one’s ability are highly prized by Dan society, and the belief is known as the “tin.” This social system still exists today, though the ways to gain wealth and prestige have changed, from prowess in agriculture and hunting, to success in the diamond mines and rubber plantation.
Lit.: Harley, G.W., Notes on the Poro in Liberia, Papers of the Peabody Museum, Archaeology & Ethnology, XIX, No.2 (Cambridge, MA, 1941), Harley, G.W. Masks as Agents of Social Control in Northeast Liberia, Papers of the Peabody Museum, Archaeology & Ethnology, xxxii, No.2 (Cambridge, MA, 1950), E. Fischer and Hans Himmelheber; The Arts of the Dan in West Africa, (Zurich, 1984), E. Fischer; “Dan Forest Spirits: Masks in Dan Villages”, African Arts, II, no. 2, 1978. pp. 16-23, 94.
600 – 800,- Euro
Height: 23 cm
Weight: 280 g