Senufo Masks

I remember as a kid, running away, scared to death of these masks. Each one of them looked frightening and powerful. They had the kind of power that made us kids lose ourselves ; and for some masks, both non-poro-initiated men and women are even forbidden to see them altogether, to avoid being cursed.  

During my visit to the city of Korhogo, I was able to rekindle with this heritage from northern Côte d'Ivoire. Yes, I was filled with terror then; but now I felt the sweet thirst of curiosity and adventure.

The art making of a mask is not at first glance done by mystery nor sacredwood. A sculptor uses the same level of attention and craftsmanship to produce a mask, a stool, or a mortar. The mask will only become sacred once it is used for performance within a liturgical context. The process of sacredwood would not require the mask, but also a costume, ornaments, the halo of mystery, power, occult knowledge surrounding the performer. The mask will typically guide the Senufo man in all the initiatory phases of the Poro, or  during other community gatherings such as a funeral. Some masks will also participate in public entertainment or general festivities.

It’s very much impossible and strongly forbidden to photograph or film a mask performer. Therefore, we did not have any visual content of the masks we were able to see and witness perform. However, we were fortunate enough to get in touch with a brilliant artist, responsible in making these hand painted clothes, representing some of the Senufo masks. The local artisan also taught us about each of the mask's name, power, and role in the Senufo community.  

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Nèfré I 
First mask to head out of the pack, the sacred wood, and lead the way.
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The spokesperson - This mask typically announces the death of a Poro initiate.

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Koutoh I

Dancer. This mask is rather casual and nice with anyone.

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This mask belongs in the sacred wood, and resides there more often. On rare sightings, he's seen saluting the elders, and becomes the spokesperson in announcing the death of a chief, or someone of utmost importance in the community.

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Chief of the sacred wood.
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Bonkrhégo I
Mask of the hunters. He’s very burlesque and playful.
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Nèfré II
Kids' mask. He is very playful and dances quite often.
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Koutoh II
Mask of the blacksmiths.
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Bonkrhégoh II

Ceremonial dancer

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The mask is a dancer for any party, funerals, weddings, community celebrations.

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The mask protects against evil spirits.


Photography / Film : Aristide Loua
Art Direction: Aristide Loua
Production / Text: Aristide Loua
All courtesy of Kente Gentlemen L.L.C. All rights reserved.

1 comment

  • Duane Rowe

    Amazing craftsmanship!! The story behind the mask are awesome as well, very spiritual.

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