Separation

By Monica Demott
(formerly University of Iowa)

Burkina FasoCôte d’Ivoire or MaliSenufo peoples
Kponyungo (funeral head mask)
Wood
L. 104 cm. (41")
The University of Iowa Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.533

Large zoomorphic helmet masks, which are called kponyungo  (meaning "funeral head masks") play an integral role in the separation of the deceased's body and spirit. To enact the body-spirit separation, the kponyungo performer interacts with the corpse, which is wrapped and sewn in multiple layers of cloths. The kind of interaction varies among Senufo groups, but each is a vivid ritual that is complemented by the striking visual presence of the kponyungo mask. This mask also includes the figures of a chameleon and a hornbill, both animals that serve as metaphors for the spirit world. The chameleon is an obvious symbol of the transformation that the spirit undergoes at the moment of death and of the dialogue between the realms of the living and the dead.