The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Do in Leaves and Wood Among the Bobo and the Bwa

by Christopher D. Roy (1947-2019)
University of Iowa

The two major wood mask types are the molo and nwenke. These are the most ancient and sacred of smiths' wooden masks, forms of Dwo that were revealed in the ancient village of Kwele during the cosmogonic period, that is, after Wuro's withdrawal.

Molo masks are carved of the wood of the sacred tree lingueAfzelia africana. These masks have a long, rectangular or trapezoidal face. The head is a spherical helmet with a sagittal crest. Two thick, long horns project dramatically upward from the helmet, and there is no frontal plank above the face. [12] A small handle of plaited fiber beneath the chin permits the masks to be held on the head during acrobatic performances. [13]

Nwenke have remained exclusively smiths' masks. These masks are composed of a very elongated trapezoidal face with a narrow chin, surmounted by a frontal plank. The intersection of the nose and brow form a "T", and the brow is protuberant, with the small eyes high in the angle of nose and brow. The nose is long and bisects the face vertically; the mouth is small and always very low on the face. The heavy helmet-shape is surmounted by a sagittal ridge. Nwenke masks wear fiber costumes.

In addition to masks made for ritual use, the Bobo carve masks used for entertainment, called bole (sing. bolo). These are helmet masks that rest on the shoulders, or cap masks with short faces. They represent people or numerous animals: antelope, rams, monkeys, rooster. These masks are worn with fiber costumes.


[12] The performer who wears the molo mask either wears a costume of the leaves of the tabe (Isoberlina doka) and is called sibe molo, or he is nude, and is called so molo. The wooden head of the mask is always the same--only the costume changes depending on the ceremonies in which it participates. There is a third type of molo mask, the saxa molo. This is a rare, ritual mask, because it is now only used by a few lineages. The head is a slab of bark of the lingué. The costume is made up of leaves of the same tree. 

[13] There are two major styles of molo masks: in the north, around Tanguna, the broad, flat planes of the face are divided vertically by a ridge that bears, in descending order, a short thick nose, a protruberant mouth placed high on the face of the mask, and an umbilicus. The eyes are rectangles. In contrast, the style of molo from Kurumani, in central Bobo country, has a very broad, square face with a long nose that divides the face vertically. The mouth is placed far down very near the chin, and is very broad and protuberant. The face is marked by slanting tribal scars (Le Moal 1980: 224, fig. 18).