Rituals of Healing

By Barbara Thompson
Friends of Usambara Society, Tanzania (formerly Stanford University; University of Iowa)

Côte d'Ivoire or Liberia; Dan peoples
Tankagle (mask)
H. 24.1 cm (9.5")
University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.484

In Africa, when spirits provide the living with their blessings, they are honored and thanked. When affliction strikes, the spirits are called upon to restore balance and well-being. As in all systems of medicine, the healing process restores vitality and strength so that the patient and the community can face the challenges and hardships of everyday life. Among the Dan, masked dancers perform on stilts in an extraordinary act of equilibrium and control that communicates the importance of balance in life. “Stilt dancing dramatizes total bodily dancing in Africa. It is a manner of saying, with total vital aliveness, that the person can transcend his human limitations, switching from style to style, under extraordinary conditions of instability" (Thompson 1974: 166). The glue glee masquerade of the Dan is a good example of the importance of balance and how performance is used as a means of attaining such desired states.

Korto (deangle mask), Dan peoples, Liberia. February 1986. Photo by William Siegmann.