By Allen F. Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles (formerly University of Iowa)

Burkina FasoBobo peoples


Wood, pigment, metal

H. 63.5 cm (25")

Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.89

That men dance the masks of initiation is among the secrets revealed to initiands, and when boys later cook and eat the leaves of the masks seen in the previous illustration, they take into their very being the divinity of Dwo. After this communion, they too can efface their individuality in the amorphous powers of Dwo. Masks and figures revealed during the liminal phase of boys' initiation often combine or juxtapose features that are ordinarily discrete to “startle neophytes into thinking about objects, persons, relationships, and features of their environment they have hitherto taken for granted” (Turner 1970: 105). By witnessing the strange, initiands must acknowledge the usual as they explore the possible. Abstraction may be achieved through reduction or exaggeration of a mask's human features. The horns of this roan antelope mask from the Bobo people are turned backwards to emphasize such strangeness and transformative reversal (see Roy 1987).