Our page banner is a detail of a 'nganga ngombo' Pende mask from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Photo: (Creative Commons) © FA2010
Dan masks have a typically high forehead, pouting mouth and pointed chin. They may also have scarification marks like the line that splits the forehead and nose in our example above. Dan masks are carved in wood and stained with a brown dye.
Dan masks are sacred objects. Dan masks are used for protection and as a channel for communication with the spirit world. The Dan also carry small 'passport masks' for personal protection when they are living away from home.
The Dan believe that their world is split into two domains: the human domain which is represented by the village and its people, and the spiritual domain which is represented by the forest and its spirits. When a dancer wears a Dan mask he becomes the spirit of that mask. A masked dancer will speak in the language of the spirits and his words are interpreted by a wise man.
Some dancers perform masked rituals on stilts. There are many different Dan masks, each of which has a distinct use during rituals or festivals. Some masks play an important part in tribal rites while others are simply for entertainment.
Dan masks are guarded by the go master, the head of the secret society of the leopard who are responsible for the initiation rites of young men into adulthood.
The Dan are hunters and farmers whose territory stretches from the western side of the Ivory Coast into Liberia.