The Dan people are hunters and farmers whose territory stretches from the western side of the Ivory Coast into Liberia. The Dan believe that their world is split into two domains: the human domain which is represented by the village and its people, and the spiritual domain, which is represented by the forest and its spirits.
Dan masks are sacred objects which typically have a high forehead, pouting mouth, and pointed chin. They may also have scarification marks such as the line that splits the forehead and nose. They are carved in wood and usually stained with a brown dye.
Dan masks are used for protection and as a channel for communication with the spirt world. The Dan tribe even carries small ‘passport masks’ for personal protection when they are living away from home.
When a dancer wears a Dan mask, he becomes the spirit of that mask. A masked dancer will speak in the language of the spirits and his words are interpreted by a wise elder. Some dancers perform masked rituals on stilts.
There are many different Dan masks, each of which has a distinct use during rituals or festivals. Some masks play an important part in tribal rites, while others are simply for entertainment. Dan masks are also guarded by the go master, the head of the secret society of the leopard, who are responsible for the initiation rites of young men into adulthood.