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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Masterpieces of African Art : Senufo Wooden Polychrome Kpeliye'e Mask
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Senufo Wooden Polychrome Kpeliye'e Mask - PF.6250
Origin: Ivory Coast
Circa: 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 12.25" (31.1cm) high
Collection: African
Medium: Painted Wood

Location: Great Britain
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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.
- (PF.6250)


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