“Firespitter” helm mask
- Date: before 1938 (collected during Ivory Coast expedition 1938-1939)
- Location: Kovro, Korhogo region, Ivory Coast, Africa
- Origin: Senufo-Tiembara
- Other name: Poniugo, Wabele or Wanyugo
- Collection: Ethnography
Who are the Senufo?
The Senufo are a people who live in the north of Ivory Coast, southern Mali and eastern Burkina Faso. They are made up of fifteen smaller groups, all of whom speak a variant of the Senufo language.
What is a fire breather mask?
The fire breather mask (Poniugo, Wabele or Wanyugo mask) represents a mythical being: a combination of powerful animals that refer to the powers of the wilderness. These powers play a magical role in the men’s societies of the Senufo people. Initiates wear these masks during funeral and initiation rites.
Why do the Senufo make masks?
The Senufo believe that the spirit of a dead person continues to haunt places that he or she used to frequent. A wandering spirit can cause harm to the community. This is why members of the Korobla or Wabele men’s societies have to find them and drive them away. The masks help them to do this. The mask wearers dance to invoke the spirits of gods, ancestors and the forest. The spirits possess the mask and the dancer. Then they dance around the dead person, screaming, to drive out the evil spirit.
How did these masks end up in the GUM collection?
Albert Maesen (1915-1992), a researcher into African art, collected this mask on an expedition to Ivory Coast in 1938-1939.