By Carla Herling
Drake University (formerly University of Iowa)

Burkina FasoMossi peoples

Karan-wemba (mask with female figure)

Wood, metal

H. 66.7 cm (26")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.475

The failure of a woman to bear children is a disaster for herself, her family, and her lineage in many African societies.  Only rarely is a man ever blamed for causing infertility, thus women who have had difficulty becoming pregnant must often resort to special prayers and offerings to encourage their own fertility.  Among many African peoples, art objects are created to represent the woman about to bear a child, or an image of the wanted child.  Often these objects are used in conjunction with songs and dances in a larger ritual, praying for children.  This Mossi mask represents a woman at the moment in her life when she has fulfilled her role as ideal mother and wife and has borne her first child, guaranteeing the continuity of her husband's family.  She bears the scars that are applied to her abdomen to mark this event.

Mossi mask at a funeral, Burkina Faso. Photo by Christopher D. Roy.