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Africa: West Africa: Liberia

Masked Dances of Liberia

Performances in
World Arts West Programs
Dan, Vai, and Yan Maskss
Diamano Coura West African Dance Company
Instruments Used

In the 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 is not revealed to the public.

Dan MaskThe Dan Mask
The Gio 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.)

The Vai Mask (Nafai or Frisky Devil)
Nafai belongs 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.

The Yan Mask
The Yan 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 masked 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.

For People Like Me 2000 the Diamano Coura West African Dance Company presented some spectacular masked dances from Liberia. The masks are masks for the harvest. They are danced to the sound of the log drum which brings the sound of the forest to the stage, since masks are thought to come from the forest. This performance included dances of the Dan, Vai, and Yan masks.


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