The miniature masks of the Dan people

The miniature masks are crafted by the Dan people of the Ivory Coast and Liberia and are made of wood. They are too small to wear on your face because they are 6-20cm high. The most common kind of mask is one with thin eyes and it looks like a female mask.

SPIRITUAL MEANING

These miniature masks are made for many reasons and have many names. Some of these names are yi luo po (thing which water is poured over), nyonkula (substitute for the ancestors) and gba po (thing which is fed). If a family has a full-sized mask the people in that family can ask for miniatures to be made. Family members carry these masks everywhere. They are rubbed in oil and food, and wrapped in cloth. The small masks are just as important as the big masks and often are believed to share its protective power. Miniature masks are carved so that they can be carried around by a family member, acting as a reminder to that family member that the spirit of the bigger mask stays with them – even when they are not at home.

FAMILY

The kind of mask carried shows which family the person carrying it belongs to. Because each family has a special mask design, the miniature mask can identify you as a member of a particular family to other people. Because of this, sometimes the masks are called “passport masks”. Often, they are sewn into a leather pouch or antelope horns that are filled with special herbs and plants.

TRUTH AND PROTECTION

These masks can also be used when swearing to tell the truth, because individuals believe that the small masks have spiritual powers since they are representing the large masks. Prophets in the community can suggest to someone that they should have a miniature mask because then they will not get a disease, be protected from evil or be cured of their problems. Sometimes, women who come from a family with a strong relationship with a large mask will carry miniature masks with them after they marry so that they still feel like they are part of their original family.

OFFERINGS

People feed the masks regularly so that they stay strong and can help the owner remain protected. Food can be put in front of them, or offerings such as rice or oil can be rubbed onto them. Sometimes the blood of a sacrificed chicken can be used. The different liquids that are rubbed on to these masks makes them sometimes look like they are made of different materials.

Marwin Ramos

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