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Dan Firewatch Mask Zakpai Ge Horned Beard African Art

Product #: 115040
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Title Dan Firewatch Mask Zakpai Ge Horned Beard African Art
Country of Origin Cote d'Ivoire/Liberia
People Dan
Materials Wood, vegetal fibers, strings, cotton, pigment
Approximate Age Mid 20th century
Dimensions Height: 10 Inches
Width: 6.5 Inches
Overall Condition Fair Most of our pieces have spent decades on at least two continents, and have been treasured by several owners.   Small splits, scrapes and cracks are a normal part of their patina attesting to their age and extensive use.  We examine each piece carefully when we receive it and report any damage we find in our listings.  Please look carefully at the pictures which may also reveal condition and damage.
Damage/Repair Worn and scraped surfaces; very dirty and worn fabrics

Additional Information:  A beautiful Dan face mask with elaborate braided dyed coiffure.  This mask belongs to the category of ‘Zakpai ge’ mask, an active and aggressive mask that serves a number of functions. It is a ‘firewatch’ mask that insures proper use of cooking fires by women and will throw sticks and things about and knock over cookpots with their meals into the fires and may even beat the women if they were careless in their use of fire. In the past it also served as a war mask. This is a classic example of traditional mask with a dynamic profile of the face with details such as   round open eyes, a toothy mouth with prominent lips. 

The Dan, historically a warrior people, are thought to have been in the Ivory Coast area for perhaps two thousand years, though the evidence for this is scant. It is known however that the Dan were heavily preyed upon by slave raiders in the 17/18th century, and the creation of Liberia in 1847 was marked by the repatriation of large numbers of them. These returning ex-slaves eventually outnumbered their relatives in the Ivory Coast, and that is still the case today. The Dan have no centralized government, and each village is relatively autonomous. The ability to accumulate wealth and prove one's ability are highly prized by Dan society, and the belief is known as the "tin." This social system still exists today, though the ways to gain wealth and prestige have changed, from prowess in agriculture and hunting, to success in the diamond mines and rubber plantations.

Recommended Reading:

Harley, G.W., Notes on the Poro in Liberia, Papers of the Peabody Museum, Archaeology & Ethnology, XIX, No.2 (Cambridge, MA, 1941)

Harley, G.W. Masks as Agents of Social Control in Northeast Liberia,  Papers of the Peabody Museum, Archaeology & Ethnology, xxxii, No.2 (Cambridge, MA, 1950)

E. Fischer and Hans Himmelheber; The Arts of the Dan in West Africa, (Zurich, 1984)

E. Fischer; “Dan Forest Spirits: Masks in Dan Villages”, African Arts,  II, no. 2, 1978.  pp. 16-23, 94