The Punu form part of the Mukuji society. Social unity is ensured by the Moukouji society whose primary role is to vanquish harmful forest spirits. The Punu Mask represents the spirits of female ancestors. The white color of the mask is a symbol for peace, deities, spirits of the dead, and the afterlife. The distinguished features and elaborated coiffure of the Puno masks portray the appearance of tribal women and represents the Punu ideals of feminine beauty; beautiful narrow, oval face, delicate chin, protruding lips and highly arched eyebrows above the almond shaped eyes. Scarification marks arranged in a square or diamonds on the forehead are attributed to female ancestors, thus giving the mask the female character. Masks without the scarifications are considered as male.
These masks represent a female guardian spirit in the initiation of young girls, funerary rites, ancestor cults, and also in dances of the full moon. These masks are worn by Mukuji initiates and could be worn during mourning but also at birth ceremonies and, therefore, symbolize a link with loved ones both already dead and those just born. The masks are used by dancers on stilts up to six and a half feet in height, dressed in skins and raffia cloths with a colorful costume covering the body. The mask performers claimed to have the power of the spirit of the mask they were wearing and it was the mask that enabled them to perform this spectacular dance.
The performances of the masks are nowadays intended primarily to entertain audiences on festive occasions. Only rarely do the masqueraders are used to preside at funerals, when they dance as the personification of the ancestor spirits.
Wood , Kaolin
Height : 13″ (33cm)