West African Masks

Lunar Masks


Lunar Masks of Burkina Faso & Guro Mask of Ivory Coast

The lunar masks of the Bwabwa society of Burkina Faso are some of the most magical masks in Africa.  They appear only at night at the beginning of the full moon.  Their role is to purify the village, ensure a good harvest, and promote the fertility of young women.

The lunar dancers use long staffs to leap towards the moon in order to harness its power.  Their long antennae, projecting from the mask’s head, are believed to further draw the power of the moon.  Cowrie shell decorations on the mask are said to promote fertility in young girls, the cowrie shell being the universal symbol of femininity.

The sacred Djela mask of the Guro people of Ivory Coast represents Gu, the wife of Zamble, a spiritual being commonly depicted in the form of an antelope.  The Djela mask is both elegant and graceful, combining both human and animal forms.  Notable features of the mask are its almond shaped eyes, rounded forehead, finely sculpted nose and mouth, with small sprouting lips.

The Djela mask is renowned for its dance called Zaouli, which is performed during traditional ceremonies such as funerals, animal sacrifices, and weddings.  It is also used as a source of entertainment.  The Zaouli dance can only be performed by a small number of highly skilled dancers who are carefully rated according to their performance.