Nwenka (Sacred Helmet Mask)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The Bobo of Burkina Faso believe that the earth was created by the supreme being Wuro. During the creation of man, Wuro also produced masks to act as physical representations of his son Duwo through which man could communicate with Wuro.

Viewed as one of the most sacred of all Bobo masks (second only to the molo mask), nwenka (pl. nwenke) is used exclusively by Bobo blacksmiths in cults centred around Dwo's spirit (the kwele dwo, dwosa, and sibe dwos cults). Nwenke masks are used during male cult initiation ceremonies, during annual harvest festivals, as points of sacrifice and prayer to Wulo and also during funerals of cult members.

Distinguishing Features

  • Carved from a single piece of wood
  • High wood density
  • Elongated trapezoidal face
  • Prominent forehead
  • Intersection of nose and brow form a "T"
  • Protuberant brow
  • Small eyes (hollow squares or circles) high in the corners of nose and brow
  • Nose is long and divides face vertically
  • Mouth is small and always very low on face
  • Narrow chin
  • Face surmounted by spherical demi-helmet
  • Helmet surmounted by a frontal plank
    • Centre pole in middle of plank superstructure
    • Decorated with openwork geometric / triangular patterns
  • Mask may be enhanced with additional elements like bird heads, beaks or other figures carved on the helmet
  • Painted red, white and black
  • Sides of mask pierced with large holes to attach costume

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