Medium: Hand Carved Wood Dimensions: Height: 6.3 feet/75 inches, 191 centimeters Length: 1.5 feet/18 inches, 46 centimeters Region: Ivory Coast, West Africa Tribe: Nafana Tribe Approximate Age: 59 years (1963) Item Number: M006 Collection: Tribal Masks Tear Sheet: Available Upon Request Provenance Report: "Bedu Mask" Condition: Excellent; Not previously owned; Undamaged Sourcing: Fair Trade Certificate of Authenticity Provided
Vividly painted in traditional colors, this mask exemplifies the vitality and grandeur of Nafana artistry. The Nafana are a Senufo-related group who, according to the oral traditions, migrated east sometime in the 17th century in search of fabled gold deposits, eventually settling in a region that now borders the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Their strategic location along the trade routes extending between the Asante kingdom in the southern forest zone and the Saharan cultures of the northern desert led to an uninterrupted and prosperous exchange of goods, ideas, and institutions. This colorful history is reflected in the annual performance of the Bedu masquerade, for which the mask was created.
The Bedu masquerade is an artistic phenomenon of the 20th century. It was introduced in the 1920’s by Nafana artists to replace a more ancient masking cult called Sakarabounhou. The positive nature of the Bedu and the ease with which it can be understood have allowed it to transcend both ethnic and religious barriers. Since its introduction, the Bedu Masquerade has been adopted by multiple ethnic groups in the east central Ivory Coast and neighboring Ghana, among them the Kulango and Degha.
Furthermore, while Bedu is controlled by persons of traditional African religious belief, it is accepted and even practiced by some Muslims, demonstrating that Islam and traditional Africa are not always incompatible.
Bedu masqueraders perform for annual month-long ceremonies called Zaurau as well as at funerals for important elders. During these festivals, which usually occurs in late November and December, Bedu masks are used to address issues of human survival, including fertility, healing, and protection of the village from both natural and social crisis. Each night of the festival, the masks emerge from the forest and enter the dance arena in male/female pairs clad in long raffia gowns. While male Bedu masks have been described as having horns, female masks have a round, disc-like superstructure.
The male/female dualism is nevertheless important, both in the mask’s symbolism and in the performance. The Bedu performance helps to “stress the importance of community and praise the traditional roles of men and women and the virtue of strong families, while serving to reassert time-honored Nafana values in a new and embattled political and social climate.”
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