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Hausa Butor mask

Hausa Butor mask
Hausa Butor maskHausa Butor maskHausa Butor maskHausa Butor mask
Tribe: Hausa
Country: Nigeria
Ritual: Hunting
Name: Butor (Secretary Bird)
Materials: Wood, leather, cloth, abrus precatorius seeds, glass beads
Provenance: Coll. by Ann Porteous, Sidewalk Gallery. Andrew Turley, SuagaCollection 2002.
Comments: This mask shows significant use with an estimated age of circa 1950.

There are animal costumes which help hunters approach their prey unnoticed until it is in range of arrow shot. This hunting method is documented in several sets of rock paintings in South Africa. A scene from rock art in the Witte Mountains, Herschel District, shows bushmen carrying a framework of woven grass and ostrich feathers topped with a carved ostrich head.

Hunting masks have a practical use and their wearing is functionally determined. In contrast to the symbolic suggestions of ritual masks, these animal masks worn by hunters are as naturalistic as possible. But they also have supernatural functions. Firstly by imitating the prey the hunter becomes one with it, allowing him to impose his will on the creature he stalks. Secondly by using the powers of the local medicine man to credit the mask with supernatural or magical powers, use of the fetish was an active way of attempting to influence the outcome of the hunt.

The Hausa and the Nupe live in central and northern Nigeria and Niger in an area of savannah. Before major communal hunts (bago) the hunters gather wearing a bird head dress over a black cloth or goatskin. The head dress is constructed from a wooden core covered with antelope skin and with a padded forehead stump.

The beak of this mask is made out of wood, the top stitched half way down with leather. Resin is clumped to form the eyes and it is embedded with abrus precatorius seeds and red glass beads. The hooded crest is similarly formed.

Down the neck of the mask the leather wrapped around the wooden core has been cobbled together with heavy stitches. The mask is held in place on the head by a leather thong through the padded base and a cloth strap around the neck, this way it maintains an upright position as the hunter moves through the savannah.


  1. African Masks of the Barbier Mueller Collection. Prestel Verlag Munich. 1998.
  2. Ann Porteous, Sidewalk Gallery. Tasmania. 2002.
  3. Masks of Black Africa. Ladislas Segy. 1976.