Senufo Helmet Mask (Wanyugo / Firespitter)


Ivory Coast

The double headed Wanyugo mask, or as is sometimes referred to the Firespitter mask belonged to the Wabele society of the Senufo. The task of the Wabele society was to destroy negative forces and harmful spirits which appear in the shape of monsters or wild animals and threaten people in times of crisis or vulnerability, like during burial ceremonies. The masks, symbolically, incorporate a number of different animal motifs to create an image that is aggressive and powerful. The crocodile mouth at the front of this mask which incorporates warthog tusks coming out of the upper jaw, represent the uncontrolled forces of the bush. On top there are two chameleons, the first animal to walk the earth and possessor of the primordial seed. Wanyugo masks derive their power from magical /medicinal substances placed in a cup that is carved into the top of the mask; however the potion can only become effective if supplemented by a costume of cotton fabric, and danced to music in the context of a ceremony.

This mask is worn by members of the Wabele society at funerals of deceased and honored members. These Masks blow sparks from their muzzles in a nighttime ritual protecting the village from sorcerers. Because of the dangerous forces these masks and its costume embody, they are treated with extreme caution and when not in use kept in isolated shelters in the bush or in a sacred grove.

Wood , Red ochre , Kaolin.

Height : 10.5″ (26.7cm) , Width : 17″ (43.2cm)