This lustrous black face mask probably played a role in Dan boys' initiation rites. It is a support for a du (vital force) spirit, which is materialized in a mask considered to be a spirit medium. When du decides it wants to participate in human society and help mankind, it appears to men in dreams and dictates the requirements for a mask to make it tangible. Subsequently the dreamer, who will wear and perform the masquerade, commissions a sculptor (glen ye meh . . .) to carve a mask out of wood. There are at least eleven major spirit masks with human or animal features that are realized in a naturalistic or stylized manner. Each mask has a name and its own paraphernalia, costume, and headdress as well as unique behavior, choreography, and musical accompaniment. Masks have human or animal features that may be representational or stylized. Other masks are a fantastic combination of both.
The small, oval face and narrow eyes of the Dallas mask suggest femininity in contrast to masks with heavy, overhanging brows, jutting angles, and mustaches that are considered masculine. This mask probably represents Deangle, a smiling and attractive female spirit that neither sings nor dances but walks and gestures gracefully. It serves as a mediator between the village and the boys' circumcision initiation camp from which it emerges to collect food for the boys and report the news from the camp to the village and vice versa.(5)
The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art, cat. 35, pp. 124-125.
5. Fischer, Eberhard, and Hans Himmelheber. The Arts of the Dan in West Africa. Zurich: Museum Rietberg, 1984. pp. 11-12, 22-33.