Art Dan Tribe.
The Dan mask to the left was used during initiation ceremonies.
These types of masks are made and worn exclusively, by male dancers. Dan
masks are unique and only carved by initiated members of the male Poro
society. The mask (see
image to the left) served to protect the young initiate against
destructive or evil forces from the time of initiation, till he one day
enters the spirit realm. The
classify surroundings into two realms - the village with all inhabitants
(human realm), and the forest (bon) (spirit realm) where the spirits
reign, and wild animals roam freely.
The forest is regarded as sacred, and crossing the boundary between
the human realm, and the spirit realm, may only be done by saying a
prayer and wearing materials from both worlds. This creates a link
between the two realms. The mask depicted above is a perfect example of
Once the male mask dancer dons the mask, he is transformed into a
spirit. The mask dancer goes into a deep trance during rituals and
brings forth messages of wisdom from his forebears. The messages is
inaudible and in uncontrollable utters, a wise man accompany the dancer
during the ritual and translates the messages. The messages are often
words of great wisdom, prescribing a way of life that will lead to
longevity, health and prosperity.
The cowry shells not only represent a decorative function, but also
indicate that the sprits have blessed the young initiate with wealth.
(In the past cowry shells was used as money). The feathers signify
beauty and the ability to take flight if danger arises. An important
feature of initiation masks is that ears are not represented.
Boys enter training at a young age and remain at the training camp
for several years, until they are initiated as adults into society. A
portion of the young men's training consists of tribal tradition,
principals and moral values. A spirit who wants to be given a bodily
form visits these initiated males in a dream. Following the dream, the
adult males have to give life to the spirit, in the form of a mask.
Before the actual carving process the adult male cleanse himself,
then sets off to the forest to find a suitable piece of wood. When he reaches
the initiation camp, he commences with the carving. On completion of the
mask, he carefully plans the song, music and dance, which are to
accompany the initiation ceremony.
the initiation ceremony the young man heads off home and is now ready to
enter into serious relationship with the young women of marital age that
will eventually lead to marriage. The mask will remain in the family and
community for years, and will eventually be passed down through the
History of the
Dan people from Liberia.
After centuries of brutal oppression and exploitation, slaves were
finally emancipated in the USA. Some of these people dearly longed to
come back to Africa, their wish were granted. On arrival they discovered
that they were reallocated on "free" land now known as
Liberia. Although these "free blacks" still practiced some of
the traditions, they were a mixed group of people that practiced
different customs. Neighboring tribes
mainly from the Ivory Coast influenced
the "free blacks" and the dominant Dan tribe took root in
Dan mask to the left was also used during initiation ceremonies:
The black around the mouth area indicates a judiciary function or wise
man that normally aids the king during important decision-making,
concerning the inhabitants of the tribe. The seashells indicate that the initiate lived close to the
coastline of Liberia.