Tag Archives: Kran

Poro Art Offerings: Analysis of Some Objects

Poro Art Offerings: Analysis of Some Objects

Galerie Walu (Geneva) 12 November 2014

Raymond Kerr (NYC) 8 November – 8 December 2014

Bonham’s NYC) 12 November 2014

Logo Mask


Lot 104 is a simple, three-horned Bamana Ntomo mask, used in lower-level Boy’s initiations, once wore by a Bamana Zo (Somaw, Furatigi, Kòmòtigiw).Lot 105 is an unusually ornate seven-horned Bamana Ntomo or Kòmò mask. The system of increasing horn-numbers and their relationship to grade and status is not known. The mask is covered in florets of cowrie shells interconnected with bright red and black Abrus precatorius seeds. Although these seeds are among the most poisonous substances known, ranking right up there with ricin, and although they are likely an ingredient in some Poro poisons, in this case they are simply used as beads for ornamentation. Cowries usually symbolize the wealth and high status of a Poro mask, but this is overkill. The name, status, and function of this mask is not known.

LOT 113 is a male Gɛ mask from the Dan. It may be Liberian (Gio) or Ivorian (Yacouba) Dan in origin. Although it has round eyes, this only identifies its gender as a male Bush Spirit, and does not make it a “fire-runner” mask. The name “Zakpai” from Fischer and Himmelheber is wrong, and should no longer be used.

Not recognizing that Poro existed among the Dan, and in their attempt to organize Dan masks into a dozen rigid “types”, a Western effort not based on Dan reality, Fisher and Himmelheber labeled masks with large round eyes “fire masks” named “Zakpei”, mentioning that this name is untranslatable (1984:44-45). The word Zakpei is very wrong and its usage should no longer be perpetuated, just as the resultant myth that all round-eyed masks are either fire masks or running masks should be herein dispelled.

It is likely that these authors had a Mandingo informant, specifically one of the “Ojine Mandingo”. In Ojine Mandingo the word Diakope means “Diako person” (the Dia- particle becomes a hard “Jia” or “Zhia” sound in Mande and has a “Z” sound in Mandingo, and the particle -pe means man). Diako (Ziako) and Diakope (Zakpei) are very derogatory terms in Ojine, relating to stupidity, bush people, uncivilized people, and so on, and is the Ojine term for the Dan. The word Zakpei is bad enough, but should certainly never be attached to a mask form.it is that it is time to dispel the idea that all round-eyed Dan masks are automatically “fire masks” or “running masks”.

The description asserts that the round eyes made this mask something it wasn’t (it was not a racing or fire mask), and the eyes weren’t carved in a round shape to enable the masker to see better. In actuality, round eyes on Poro masks signify maleness and are a stylistic component of a particular Bush Spirit mask. Carey (2013) examined seventeen round-eyed Dan masks, not one of which is was running mask or a fire mask. For examples of running masks see Girard 1967: plate VIIIa and Holas 1966.

Girard, Jean. 1967. Dynamique de la Société Ouobé. Dakar: IFAN.

Holas, B. 1966. Arts de la Cote d’Ivoire. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

This mask has unfortunately been stripped of all its important attachments, costume, coif, and even the metal rings that were once around the eyes. (it was likely hammered aluminum). Therefore at this stage in its life, this “naked” mask is just a generic template of a male Dan mask, with no way of determining its real name, village where used, any public and/or secret functions, its identity, or status in the Dan Poro masking hierarchy.

Lot 115 is another round-eyed (male) Dan mask, probably from the Ivorian Yacouba, but Dan/Kono is also possible. It fortunately still retains its intricate fiber coif and beard, which appears original. There are remnants of a resinous material around the eyeholes, but no nail holes are apparent, so there was likely never metal encircling the eyes. There is no way of knowing from the image and the information given if this was a simple secular personal or village entertainment mask, or if it belonged to the Poro and had a particular secret society name and function. It is real, old, and well-used.


As expected, Raymond Kerr has assembled a high-quality group of Ivorian objects for sale in New York.

There is an old, well-used, brown wood, Poro Society male Bush Spirit mask with round eyes, probably from the Yacouba Dan or adjacent Wobé. Remnants of a yellowish-tan mask across the eyes suggest that it once had either a red cloth mask (signifying its Poro ownership) or a mask of applied kaolin. The mask still retains its fiber beard.

An old and rare double mask from the Guro is surmounted by a standing female figure. It is in excellent condition, with a patina consistent with a century-old piece.

There is a Dan/Guéré or Wobé mask with midline forehead scar, lozenge-shaped eyes, broad nose, animal teeth in the typical Kran low-set mouth, and a symmetrical application of brass-colored tacks adorning the forehead, brow and cheeks. It probably belonged to an Elder of the Kwi society.

Another brass tack adorned  face mask with tubular eyes, animal tooth-filled low-set Bété-style mouth may indeed be Bété, but with the downward-curving tusks it feels like it’s from the neighboring Nyabwa.


Lot 292 is an uninspired Kran or Dan/Kran Gah Greh mask, stripped of all attachments and applied materials, except for a nail head on the tip of the nose, but fortunately it still retains its articulated jaw, showing that it was a speaking mask.

Lot 294 is a zoomorphic Senufo helmet mask ex. Alfie Schienberg. The two rounded horns curve inwards, and underneath each horn is a rounded ear, suggesting an antelope. A seated female figure sits atop an arch-like element suggestive of a heddle pulley. Only remnants of its old layer of applied materials remains. Three circumferential rings of holes were for the attachment of a costume, perhaps raffia.

New Musée d’Ethnographie de Genève Opens — 31 October



New Musée d’Ethnographie de Genève Opens — 31 October

The new Musée d’Ethnographie de Genève (MEG) in Switzerland is opening at the end of this month. The old cramped museum closed its doors in September 2010. The new building (shown above), will be inaugurated on October 31, 2014. 1.000 objects from the MEG’s permanent collection are on display.

Its first exhibitions, free to the public, begin 1 November 2014, and include not only the above-noted display entitled “The Archives of Human Diversity” but also “The Mochica Kings: Divinity and Power in Ancient Peru” running from 1 November 2014 – 15 May 2015.

The MEG has one of Switzerland’s two biggest ethnographic collections: some 80,000 objects and 300,000 books and documents including images, photographs, audiovisual and sound recordings. Collected over several centuries, these holdings are divided into five departments according to the objects’ geographical provenance (Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania). The museum’s ethnomusicology department is of worldwide scope and boasts a specialized library.

The displays have seven main sections: a historical introduction, a separate section for each continent, and one devoted to ethnomusicology.

The Autumn edition of Tribal Art Magazine features an interesting overview of the museum’s holdings by Boris Wastiau, the museum’s director (73: 76-85). You can read about all planned festivities here.

Ebola Update: All Poro Groups Now Involved in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea

Ebola virus (shown spewing from an infected cell) does not recognize ethnic or political borders.


October 11, 2014

Ebola Update

Neil Carey

All Poro ethnic groups in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea have now had cases of Ebola.

• In Liberia, the rural district of Gbarpolu, has reported its first two confirmed cases. This is home to some Gola, Kpelle, Belle, Gbandi and Mende people (Map 3).

• As of 7 October, all ethnic groups in Liberia have become involved, although SE Grand Bassa County (Bassa) and Maryland County (Grebo) have not had any active cases reported in the 3 weeks prior (according to WHO). The case in Grand Gedeh (Kran) that was reported on 19 September was not included on the map below.

• NE Sierra Leone and much of northern Guinea have also not reported any new cases during the 3-week incubation period prior to 19 September.

 There is still no significant headway being made in the fight against Ebola. A total of 8399 confirmed, probable, and suspected cases of Ebola virus disease have been reported in seven affected countries (Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Spain, and the United States of America) up to the end of 8 October. There have been 4033 deaths (WHO UPDATE).

• Medical infrastructure strain and social unrest continues, particularly in Liberia and Sierra Leone. These factors inhibit containment efforts.

• When American healthcare workers (HCW) Dr. Kent Brantley and Nancy Writebol became ill, there were difficulties in securing medivac from Liberia. This highlighted the dual problems of inadequate training of HCW and inadequate infrastructure to support aid workers. These problems continue, and have many negative side-effects on recruitment capacity, medical infrastructure resilience, and translocation risk. Local containment efforts will continue to be inhibited until these problems are addressed.

 For some unknown reason, Côte d”Ivoire has yet to report a case. Many people wonder if this is not due to a failure to report. Although there have been no new cases of Ebola reported in Grand Gedeh County (Kran territory) since an infected man from Ganta (Mano land) became ill in Zwedru, active and new cases have occurred along the Ivorian border with N’Zerekoré, Guinea, and Nimba, River Gee and Grand Kru Counties, Liberia.The risk of movement of infected individuals to Cote d’Ivoire is increasing.

• These problems contribute to the growing global scale of the problem. It is almost certain that there will be new global infections involving HCW treating aid workers (such as those reported in Spain) and in the United States, for as long as foreign HCW working in West Africa are unable to obtain local treatment, and West African borders remain porous (which they will).

• The potential remains for re-emergence in countries making progress towards containment. This ‘twin peaks’ nature of distribution has historically been observed around Ebola outbreaks, and has already occurred in Guinea and as we’ve noted in Foya, Liberia.

• There seems to be a general mistrust of the data, and there remains concerns about information suppression and incomplete public health data.

Figure 1 shows the location of cases throughout the countries with widespread and intense transmission. In Liberia, the rural district of Gbarpolu, has reported its first two confirmed cases (WHO).

Advice for African Art Dealers, Collectors, Travelers:

Although we’ve briefly discussed the issue of decontamination of objects and the wisdom of avoiding possible exposure to newly arrived travelers from West Africa, the following advice meant for physicians is useful:

• When asking a travel history, TRUST BUT VERIFY and err on the side of caution.

• Significant lack of data and active information suppression in West Africa is inhibiting accurate assessments.  This is a poor indicator.  Epidemic curves now falsely show a “peaking out” of cases.  This is not the reality.  Things remain very much completely out of control.

• Several African nations have resumed flights to Liberia.  This is an exceedingly poor decision according to infectious disease experts.

• As noted above, there are new cases popping up along the NW border of Côte d’Ivoire.  We are waiting for a declaration of Ebola involvement in this country, coming by water from across the Cavally River or from newly re-established flight connections.

• There are reports of West Africans who have successfully fled by airplane to Colombia, and reported intercepts at the southern border of the US.  Some of this information requires verification, but if true, it is obviously a point of concern for the involved states, and this is no longer just an East Coast problem.