DescriptionBAULE, Ivory Coast
Bush cow Helmet Mask
The Akan-speaking Baule probably borrowed this mask, and the male society that uses it, from Mande-speaking neighbors. The mask and the society are called "Bonu Amwin" ("God of the Woods"). This is a wild spirit represented as a bush cow in Bonu Amwin masks. The bush cow is a forest-dwelling relative of the Cape buffalo, though with shorter horns; but like its better-known relative, it is aggressive and dangerous. These are qualities desired for a mask housing a force that polices a village, restores order after the death and funeral of a Bonu Amwin society member, removes the taint of death from the village and protects against unseen dangers. Bonu Amwin can also be a war mask, healing wounds and raising the newly-dead. For all these wild and fearsome qualities, it is kept in the bush, away from the village when not in use, and must not be seen by women, lest they die. However, a Bonu Amwin mask must be "rested" after use to regain its powers, and it loses power if damaged.
A Bonu Amwin mask is a large helmet type, worn at a nearly horizontal angle. It combines human eyes and nose with square crocodile jaws and teeth. Instead of the customary pair of flat, curving bush cow horns normally seen on Bonu Amwin masks, the present example has an unusual double pair of antelope horns with elegant curves contrasting with the bold, aggressive features of the face, as if to underscore positive, healing and order-restoring functions with the dangerous and destructive capacity of Bonu Amwin.
From the Estate of Liz Claiborne and Arthur Ortenberg
Sotheby's, Important Tribal Art, May 5, 1997, lot 76
Length: 23 inches
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