The Punu and Lumbo of the Gabonese Republic are matrilineal; they trace their lines of descent through the women of the community. As such, female ancestors are venerated and the 'first' female ancestor—the mukaukila or 'first woman'—is honoured through sculpture, ceremonies, song, and dance.
One way in which the mukaukila and other female ancestors are honoured is with okuyi (pl. mekuyo) 'white masks' of the mwiri male initiation society. Embodying the spirit of a deceased young maiden in the spirit realm, these masks are believed to harness the powers of female ancestors. They are worn and danced in communal rites such as funerals, youth initiations, and births.
Okuyi masks are also worn by stilt performers from the mwiri society during ritual ceremonies, to request spiritual intervention in the hunt for malicious sorcerers and witches. Dancing on stilts up to three metres high, holding fly-whisks, and dressed in costumes of plant fibres, the dancers are a sign of authority and inspire a mixture of admiration and fear in view of the amazing physical exploits of their performances.
NOTE: Depending on peoples and regions, this dance is variously known under the names of ocuya, ukuyi, mokoi, ikwara, okukwe, mukudj (mukuyi or mukudji), and mbwanda.
Common features among all okuyi masks:
Regional variations (Central region; Punu & Lumbo variant):