Bwa Buffalo Mask
Country: Burkina Faso.
Culture: Bwa (Babwa, Bwawa, Bobo Oulé).
Date: end 19th or early 20th century.
Medium: wood, clay based paint and mineral based pigments.
Size: h. 67 cm (26¼ in.), w. 29 cm (11½ in.), d. 40 cm (15¾ in.).
Provenance: old German collection.
ex Adrian Schlag, Brussels.
ex Patrick Mandoux, Brussels.
Extra: A polychrome helmet mask in the shape of a buffalo head with round horns, a classic of zoomorphic art.. Made of light-coloured, lightweight wood, the surfaces of the arched relief are dyed black, white and red. These ‘buffalo masks’ are tied to a full-body costume and worn in a slanted position on the head. An old piece with very good patina.
The Bwa, are living on the border of Burkina Faso and Mali. Traditional Bwa religion embraces relationships with the powerful spirits of nature that the Bwa understand to inhabit their universe. One of the ways that Bwa individuals and families honored these spirits and received their protection was by commissioning, owning, and dancing masks, including animal spirit masks. These might depict insects or water dwellers—such as butterflies, fish, and crocodiles—or land animals, including antelopes, monkeys, pigs, and African buffalos. In a practice that continues to this day, African buffalo masks appear at annual renewal ceremonies, celebrations on market days, funeral gatherings and burials, and initiations. The masked dancer, wearing a raffia skirt, uses two wood canes to represent the animal’s forelegs as he rapidly tosses his head back and forth, imitating the movements of a charging buffalo.
Photo credit: © Jean Godecharle.
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