Antique IGBO Mask from Eastern Region of Nigeria 16x9 in
Dan people have achieved notoriety for their entertainment festivals, which were village ceremonies, but are today performed largely for important visitors. During these festivals, masked performers dance on stilts. The go master, the head of the like-named society possesses the masks and guards them in a sacred hut. All Dan masks are sacred; they do not represent spirits of the wilderness, they are these spirits. Dan masks are characterized by a concave face, a protruding mouth, high-domed forehead and are often covered in a rich brown patina. There are a variety of Dan face masks, each of which has a different function. They may be the intermediaries, who acts between the village and the forest initiation camp, may act against bush fires during the dry season, used in pre-war ceremonies, for peace-making ceremonies, for entertainment. Over time, many among them have lost their original function and have been recycled into contexts related to entertainment, emerging only for festivals or events organized for visitors. Nonetheless, the great masks live on, their even more rare appearances being reserved for times of tension, when it is important they may exercise their role of social control and their faculty to reduce conflict or settle legal wrangles. The Dan also carried small masks (less than 8”), which are sometimes called ‘passport’ masks. They were sewn onto a piece of cloth and kept in a leather pouch and possibly worn in the small of the back. They are miniature copies of a family mask and sometimes received libations. These masks also act as witnesses during initiation ceremonies and protect the owner when he is away from home. Dan masks are the real treasures of African art tradition, ranging in their expressive powers from gentle tenderness to fierce aggression.