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Burkina FasoMossi peoples

Karan-wemba (mask with female figure)

Wood, metal

H. 66.7 cm (26")

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

The Mossi states were founded in about 1500 when a group of horsemen from northern Ghana rode into the basin of the White Volta River and conquered a number of small farmer groups. In the north, in the Yatenga area of Burkina Faso around the city of Ouahigouya, the horsemen encountered the Dogon, who fled to the Bandiagara cliffs. Those Dogon who remained behind were amalgamated into a new Mossi society, and their descendants continue to use masks like this one, very similar in style to masks called satimbe by the modern Dogon to the northwest.

This mask was carved to appear at the funeral of an elderly Mossi woman called a Wemba, whose husband has passed away, whose children have grown to adulthood, and who returns to her father's household with the rank of a living ancestress—a direct line to the spirits of the family ancestors. It represents the woman at the height of her physical beauty, just following the birth of her first child, when scarification patterns that radiate from the umbilicus are traditionally applied.

This is one of at least eight masks or mask fragments in the same style in American and European collections. Well-known examples are in the collection of the late Catherine White, Seattle, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Barbier-Mueller Collection, Geneva, and the University Museum, University of Pennsylvania.

Professor Christopher D. Roy, 1991

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