Burkina Faso; Nuna peoples

Antelope mask

Wood, pigment, and fiber, H. 58.4 x W. 19.1 x D. 23.6 cm
The Stanley Collection, X1986.584


Several groups in the area of the upper Volta River basin share the use of red, white, and black geometric patterns. Among these are the southwestern Mossi, Bwa, Marka-Dafing, Samo, and various "Gurunsi" groups including the Ko, Lela, and Nouna. These last three are key to understanding the sculptural styles of the area, for they are probably the originators of the style. The ancestors of the southwestern Mossi, in the area around Koudougou and Ouagadougou were Lela, Nouna, and Ko. The Marka-Dafing and Samo who moved into the region bringing mask traditions with them were heavily influenced by the styles of the Ko and Nouna, and finally, the Bwa have purchased Ko and Nouna masks like this one outright from their eastern neighbors. As a result, it is virtually impossible to distinguish between the styles of many Bwa and Nouna masks. This mask, from the Nouna village of Tigan, between Koudougou and Dedougou, represents a large female Koba antelope and is called koan. As is the case throughout Burkina Faso, such masks represent protective spirits from the bush, always closely associated with the spirits of ancestors, and which can take human, animal, or even monstrous characteristics. Such masks can perform on several occasions throughout the dry season from October to May, but they chiefly appear at the funerals of elders and at annual village cleansing ceremonies, when malevolent supernatural spirits are chased from the village.

Professor Christopher D. Roy, School of Art and Art History, University of Iowa