The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Masquerades Among the Dan People

by William Siegmann (1943 - 2011)
Formerly The Brooklyn Museum

Mask, Dan artist, village of Nyor Diaple, Liberia. February 1986. Photo by William Siegmann.

The Dan people live in the western part of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and eastern Liberia and are widely known for the wide variety of masks that are central to their cultural life and social organization. For the Dan a mask is more than just a face covering. The complete mask costume is comprised of a headdress, wide skirt made of palm fiber, and a cloth cape, which completely cover the wearer, hiding his body and validating the myth that the mask is a spirit of the forest, not a human being. The fiber represents the wild forest while the cloth represents civilized human society and the mask is a mediator between these two worlds.