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Africa Direct

Nuna Nunuma or Bwa Bird Mask Burkina Faso African Art

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Title Nuna Nunuma or Bwa Bird Mask Burkina Faso African Art
Type of Object Mask, Headpiece
Country of Origin Burkina Faso
People Nuna, Nunuma, or Bwa
Materials Wood, pigment
Approximate Age Mid 20th century
Height (in) 17
Width (in) 8.5
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.

Additional Information: In the southwest region of Burkina Faso, numerous smaller groups of farming peoples have often been identified collectively as the Gurunsi. Included within this larger collective are the Nuna, Nunuma and Lela among others sharing certain common elements of culture and language. They often share similarities with the masks found among the Bwa and Bobo, their better known neighbors. This is especially seen in their masks that are often difficult to tell apart as they are close in style and symbolism. Animal shaped masks have been identified as the primary sculpted art form of these people. This offered mask, for instance, represents a stylized bird mask. The style may appear to be an earlier example of this mask type. It shows signs of long use and good age.This mask is worn on the top of the head with the tail stretching upwards above the dancer's head. The holes in the cap portion would have woven bits of cord to provide a veil to hide the dancer’s face.

Among these peoples of Burkina Faso (Upper Volta), The religion is based upon magical objects and figures that are kept in village and family shrines. The spirits that inhabit the shrine also are found in masks that represent a spirit of the bush known as ‘Su’ that appears in different animal forms. These masks appear on a number of occasions including the initiation of young boys when they are informed about the different masks, their meanings, and how the various masks symbolize early myths and local history during annual celebrations when the masks are danced. When Masks may also appear at the funerals of honored members of the men’s society or young men may simply dance masks on market days as entertainment and as a means to make money and attract young women. When not performing the mask is kept in the possession of the local smith’s clan. The surface carving in shallow relief was highlighted by the use of white and black paint applied in geometrical forms.

Recommended Reading:
Roy, C., The Art of the Upper Volta Rivers, 1987.
Christopher D. Roy , Thomas G.B. Wheelock, Landof the Flying Mask. Art and Culture in Burkina Faso. The Thomas G.B. Wheelock Collection, Prestel, 2007

I have examined this piece and agree with the description.
Niangi Batulukisi, PhD.