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20th c.; Carved wood, pigment; On stand: 69" x 8" x 7"; Provenance: Merton Simpson, New York; Allan Stone Collection, New York (acquired from the above in March 1982)

Sale Price: $10,000

Estimate: $400 - $600


A culturally diverse people, the Mossi people of Burkina Faso have many types of masks. Masks are owned by clans and used in initiations, funerals, and sacrifices. Masks like this serpent mask, called doho, honor a spirit that appears in clan mythology. Every member of a clan is connected to the clan animal; they will not kill it. Christopher Roy (1987: 268) elucidates the mythological origin of the serpent masquerade: "Many years ago the men of Dossi raided a neighboring village and were routed. An elder from Dossi hid from his vengeful pursuers in the burrow of a great serpent, saying to the serpent that he was not there to harm it but to save his own life. He was forced to hide for two market weeks, during which time the serpent brought game to the burrow for the elder to eat. When, eventually, the elder returned to Dossi, he consulted a diviner, who told him to carve a mask and to respect the serpent as a protective spirit." Sacrifices to the ancestors are made with animal blood and masquerades performed for the general success and protection of the clan. If a mask gains a reputation for success in a certain aspect of life, non-clan members may ask permission to sacrifice to the mask.
Roy, Christopher D. The Art of Burkina Faso, Art and Life in Africa, The University of Iowa ( Roy, Christopher D. Art of the Upper Volta Rivers. Meudon: Alain et Francoise Chaffin, 1987, p. 268 Roy, Christopher D. Land of the Flying Masks: Art & Culture in Burkina Faso, the Thomas G. B. Wheelock Collection. Prestel Pub, 2007 Roy, Christopher D. Mossi: Visions of Africa Series. 5 Continents Editions, 2015