Senufo men have their own "secret" societies,
called the Poro, headed by the village elder, in
which the sacred knowledge of manhood is
taught to young initiates. Before they are taken
into the wilderness to learn the clan wisdom,
prospective adolescent are symbolically "killed"
to signify the end of their childhood. Upon their
return, they are welcomed back into the village
as adults with an elaborate ceremony.
The most beautiful element of this ceremony is
the celebration of the interdependent
relationship between man and woman. Young
men newly initiated into Poro society wear masks
similar to this Kpeliye’e mask. To garner the
appreciation of women, these young men,
dressed in full, colorful costumes of cloth and
raffia to complement their masks, prance
gracefully in a masquerade to the beat of
pounding drums and dazzling rattles.
This mask, decorated in a rich polychrome of
western paints, possibly even nail polish, is a fine
example of the Kpeliye’e style. It represents, as
all Kpeliye’e masks do, a beautiful, idealized
woman. Its face is human in form and its head is
crowned by a pair of animal ears and a
representation of a hornbill. The Senufo refer to
the hornbill as the "master among the birds"
because of its sexuality (the phallic beak) and
intelligence. "Master," as a title in the men's
Poro society, connotes intelligence, creativity,
and mastery of a particular skill. By each side of
the protruding mouth, with teeth visible, are
signs of ritual scarification, also evident on the
cheeks and foreheads. Such body decoration
was a sign of rank as well as a mark of beauty.
To the Senufo, this masks was representative of
the wisdom of the sexes, a knowledge we
continually struggle to understand today.