indigenous groups of Liberia, masks play an important part
in connecting the living with the ancestral spirits and ancient
deities. It is a means by which people strive to gain knowledge
and insight into the future. The dancer "becomes" the mask,
thus it is traditionally important that the human identity
not revealed to the public.
People live in northern Liberia, and speak a language called
Mande. They are primarily farmers and hunter/gatherers. Gio
men also have their own secret society which marks their initiation
into manhood and guides them throughout their lives. The Dan
mask is a ceremonial mask which is worn during festival time,
along with the Glegben, (Stilt Mask). The dance has very intricate
hands and feet movements, with which the drummer and the masked
dancer communicate. At times, the drummer follows the dancer,
and at times the dancer follows the drummer, making it a true
dialogue in movement and sound. (The Dan Mask shown here courtesy of Museum of Ancient & Modern Art.)
Vai Mask (Nafai or Frisky Devil)
to the Gola, Vai, and Mendi Tribes from Grand Cope Mount county
of Monrovia, Liberia. The Vai people make their living by farming
the fertile lands of northwestern Liberia and southeastern Sierra
Leone. The Nafai Mask belongs to the men. Usually this character
is very frisky, goes anywhere and asks for whatever he wants.
He is regarded as a playboy character.
Mask, or Gbetu, also belongs to the Gola, Vai, and the Mendi
Tribes of Liberia. The Yan is for the Poro (men's) society,
and the Sande (women's) society, or club. Within Vai culture
there are both male and female secret societies which teach
young boys and girls the social, survival, traditional, and
personal lessons in becoming men and women. Performing the
dance is the final blessing. The Yan mask performs during the
graduation which is known as "The Breaking of the Poro Bush," where
the boys and the Yan mask exhibit their talents.