Masks In African American Culture

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The face is an important element in all cultures. It harbors all of the five senses: seeing, speaking, smelling, hearing, tasting. As a master of the senses the face plays a large role in art especially in that of the Dan ethos. In African Dan culture the face is a central theme in the tradition of masquerade. The approximate 35, 000 Dan peoples of Northern Liberia and Northern Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) employ artistic form and evoke spiritual association through masquerade ritual. Masks of the Dan people reference both the physical mask and the spirits they manifest during masquerade performance.
Masks act as a part of the Dan religion. The Dan people follow a complex animist faith tradition. Their beliefs surround a Supreme Being, Zlan,
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Deangle masks give pleasure and comfort. They serve as mediators in initiation rites for boys and their mothers. The deangle are carved with oval faces and narrow slit eyes. Often the mouth is carved with open full lips to expose the teeth. Deangle are the representation of beauty. Bugle masks serve the purpose of frightening. The eyes are open tubes and they are carved with bold angles. The most powerful of these are adorned in fur and bone. Ka gle is an extraordinary mask that displays erratic and aggressive behavior. It serves to teach the value of discipline by setting a bad example. Its name comes from the term ka, hooked sticks, which it often throws the audience during Dan performance.
The Dan culture has a variety of masks that each exhibit a unique and singular personality. The sacred gebande masks are the most sacred of the Dan culture while the genome are of a lower rank. Masks are categorized by their attributions rather than their aesthetic appeal. The gebande is a very large group and therefore has several subgroups. Subcategories include Singers’ masks, Dancers’ masks, Storytellers’ masks, and Beggars’ masks. Categories of gebande might be Goge (ancestor masks), Gesuya (avenger masks), miniature masks (goge or gesuya substitutes), and sagbwe runners’/fire watchers’

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