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Nwantantay Plank Masks

The Bwa of Mali and Burkina Faso are surrounded by the Bamana in north, the Bobo in the west, the Marka in the east and the Gurunsi and Lobi in the south. Each Bwa village is directed by a council of elders. Socially the Bwa are divided into three endogamous professional classes or castes: farmers, blacksmiths and griots (musicians who recount historical information through song.) The spiritual life of the Bwa is based on worship devoted to Do and the founding ancestors. Do intervenes at the time of agrarian rituals and funerals. Do represents the life force of the forest, plant life and the fields. The Bwa people are responsible for creating beautiful long horizontal masks of butterflies and of hawks. An superb example of a Butterfly mask can be found in our “Curators Gallery.” The Nwantantay is another famous Bwa endeavor. These abstract masks have the shape of a tall towering panel, some with a crescent perched on top, with a flat round face as its base. The upper panel is decorated with geometrical motifs, many which are black and white painted checkerboards. These paintings or motifs are linked to Do and the history of the tribe. The mask is worn in front of the face, attached by a thick rope which the dancer holds in his mouth. To see, the dancer peers through the open mouth of the mask for the large eyes framed by concentric circles are not cut out. The Nwantantay masks are worn during funerals, agricultural rituals and during market day festivities. Billowing raffia and fibrous customs are attached to the mask as seen in the additional photo.

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