Helmet Mask, Poro Society


Côte d'Ivoire

Helmet Mask, Poro Society, 20th century

  • On View

Polychromed wood

Image: 13 × 10 3/4 × 34 in. (33 × 27.3 × 86.4 cm)

Gift of Justice and Mrs. G. Mennen Williams, 1973.9

A member of the Poro Society used this mask in rituals performed at the beginning of a dry season to cleanse the community of evil spirits. The Senufo combined characteristics of different animals to make this mask look aggressive and bring fear to evil spirits to drive them away from the community. The base of the mask is an antelope, thought to be the horse of the gods. Jaws of a crocodile, teeth of a hyena, and tusks of a warthog show aggression. Bush cow horns protruding through the top of the mask represent strength. A grey heron and a chameleon, considered to be the first creatures on earth, are at the mask’s crown. The heron, associated with agricultural productivity and witchcraft, functions as a warning to evil spirits and brings fertility to the land. The chameleon, symbolic of transformation because of the creature’s ability to camouflage, grips a small bowl at the brow of the mask, which would have contained powerful substances used to drive away evil spirits that caused sickness.

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