Africa Direct
Africa Direct


Location: Central Liberia
Population: Disputed Est 400,000

Arts: The art works of the Bassa are linked stylistically and ritually to the Mande-speaking Dan, who now live mainly in Cote d'Ivoire. Masks are the primary mode of expression for the Bassa, and figures are rare. What's known is that some statues are carved in honor of a "favorite spouse," important family member, or ancestor. The use of large maternity statues, which can also be found might have magical uses as well. Statues, unlike masks, are thought to be hidden and not, as far as we know, used ritually by the village as a whole. They are personal in nature, and thus each one has a unique meaning. The expressive facial features, hairstyles, and distinctive scarifications found on statuary parallel mask styles, and simplify the attribution of these rare pieces.

History: The Bassa are relatives of the Dan, who live to their northeast in Cote d'Ivoire. Little is known about their early history, except for some recent DNA evidence that points to a possible ancient origin all the way across Africa in Mozambique. Their recorded history is based mostly on figures from the slave trade during the 16th and 17th centuries. As a result, their exact population cannot be known for sure. They have absorbed much of Dan culture, including the usage and appearance of their arts. This is in spite of the fact that they speak Kru, and not Mande, like the Dan. Occupying the geographic center of Liberia, the Bassa live in scattered small villages, and cultivate rice and other crops. They do not have a centralized governing authority, and depend on secret societies like the "Poro" to maintain order and social cohesion. Their economy depends on rice growing and hunting.


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