This imposing piece is a Landai/Landa mask, which represents the great forest spirit of that name. The effect is designed to be as threatening as possible, with a crocodilian snout lined with sharp teeth, below a geometrically severe T-bar nose/brow complex and a domed forehead decorated with feathers. The colour is very dark, caused by repeated libations and considerable age.
The Toma live in the mountainous regions of Guinea and Liberia (where they are known as Loma). Most of their internal governance is carried out by the Poro elders society, which is responsible for judicial, legal and administrative issues, which are couched in religious and ritual terms. Initiates to the Poro have to go through a trial period, at the end of which they are “eaten” by a person wearing this mask, who then “revives” them as fully adult members of the Poro. The masks can be several metres long, and are viewed in considerable regard by all who see them: they may not be seen by anyone other than the Poro and initiates thereof. His wife, Nyangbai, is represented by a smaller mask without the maw seen here, and is usually used in gentler roles at circumcisions and funerals.
This is an exceptional piece of African art.
- (PF.4812 (LSO))