Manratche (Initiation Mask)

Dugn’be (Bull Helmet Mask)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The Bidjogo (also known as Bijogo, Bijagó, Bidyogo and Bidyugo) people of Bissagos (also Bijagós) archipelago, in current day Guinea Bissau, hold initiation rituals for young girls and boys, according to their age group. These initiation processes are called Manratche. It is believed that only the initiated can become ancestors as the uninitiated can not create religious objects used for communicating with the afterworld, Ancaredo.

Each age-group makes use of a number of zoomorphic masks during the 'coming-of-age' Manratche ceremonies. As boys and girls age and progress toward full maturity, they wear more elaborate masks, mimicking the ferocity of the animals their masks represent. Four key types of masks exist:

  • Gn'opara: worn by the youngest initiates of the first and second age groups, these masks represent long-horned bush cows.
  • Dugn'be: the heaviest masks worn by initiates in the third age group, the cabaro. These masks represent the domesticated ox.
  • Essenie: representing a wild bull, these masks are found mainly on the islands of Formosa and Uno.
  • Iare: worn by men entering the final phses of initiation, these masks represent a zebu bull or a buffalo.

The dugn'be (meaning 'the ox raised in the village') mask and the masquerader's dance symbolise the initiate's lack of control. A cord running through the nostrils of the mask indicates that the initiate needs to be tamed like the domesticated ox—his strength must be encouraged yet controlled.

The masks are worn before inmates leave the village for their period of seclusion in initiation camps. Once used and initiation complete, the masks are abandoned.

Distinguishing Features

Wooden buffalo helmet mask in two pieces:

  • Helmet-shaped mask worn over head
    • Naturalistically carved
    • Real bull horns affixed with leather strips and metal tags
    • Horns extend and curve out from sides of head
    • White triangle painted on forehead
    • Large glass eyes made from bottle bottoms
    • Raised bands of fur nailed around eyes
    • Ears made of wood or leather
    • Ears attached to back of head, below level of horns
    • Cord runs through nostrils of this mask
    • Open mouth
    • Upwardly pointed tongue
    • Pierced around the rim
    • Polychrome paint applied
  • Cylindrical neck
    • Neck carved separate to mask
    • Spiral ridges carved on neck
    • Neck rests on dancer's shoulders
  • Head and neck attached by series of raffia ties which span holes around perimeter of each piece

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