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Senufo Kponyugu mask

Senufo Kponyugu mask
Senufo Kponyugu maskSenufo Kponyugu maskSenufo Kponyugu maskSenufo Kponyugu mask
Tribe: Senufo
Country: Ivory Coast
Ritual: Detects and Destroys Negative Forces
Name: Kponyugu
Materials: Wood, cowries, recycled glass beads, nails, raffia
Provenance: Coll. by Ann Porteus, Sidewalk Gallery 1996. Andrew Turley, SuagaCollection 2001.
Comments: Collected in Korhogo, Ivory Coast. The mask was dated at 1970 by Koffi Hubert, P/le Chief for Ministrere De La Culture, Service Autonome De Musees Cote D’Ivoire (SAMCI)

The task of the Kponyugu mask is to detect and destroy negative forces and harmful spirits who in the shape of monsters or wild animals threaten people in times of crisis or vulnerability, for example during burial ceremonies.

The Senufo are a farming people who live in the northern and central regions of the Ivory Coast and the southern regions of Mali and Burkino Faso. They have a vital masquerading tradition associated with various male societies including Poro. Zoomorphic masks are active among the southern Senufo in the densely populated area around the city of Korhogo.

The threatening appearance of the Kponyugu befits its purpose of battling evil. Powerful jaws and sharp teeth (recalling a crocodile or hyena' snout) and tusks like those of a warthog underscore its aggressive nature. On occasions they have been said to emit swarms of wild bees or blasts of fire - after dark tinder is held in a cleft stick in front of the mouth.

The mask recalls the chaos before the world was set in order. Between the horns is a hornbill and a chameleon, two of the primordal animals. The chameleon' slow and careful walk is due to the fact that he was the first creature to walk on the newly formed surface of the earth.

Due to the dangerous forces they embody, masks and costumes are treated with extreme caution and kept in an isolated shelter or secret grove away from the village. The most dangerous mask is kept within the grove and the more innocuous mask on the outside or edges of it.

The mask derived its power from the magical and/or medicinal substances (wah) placed in the small cup in the crown held by the two chameleons. The mask was supplemented by a costume of cotton fabric (wao, wabele) and danced to music in the context of the ceremony. Recycled glass beads are attached to the “wah” cup and cowries are attached to the ears - the holes are rounded with wear. The carving on the horns is particularly refined and the mask has several tribal repairs.

Koffi Hubert who inspected and signed the shipping papers for Ann Porteous from 1994 also provided information and dates. He had worked at the museum for 40 years and was able to date works accurately back over 50 years by the style of carving, village fashions and generational changes. Ann Porteous kept the piece in her private collection from 1996 to 2000 then placed it back in her gallery for sale.


  1. Africa Dances, Michel Huet & Claude Savare. Thames & Hudson.
  2. African Masks of the Barbier Mueller Collection. Prestel Verlag Munich. 1998.
  3. Ann Porteous, Sidewalk Gallery. Tasmania. 2002.
  4. African Art, Frank Willet. Praeger Publishers Inc NY. 1971.
  5. The Philbrook Museum of Art. Online. 2001.