Bo Nun Amuin ('Gods of the Bush' Helmet Mask)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Considered the most sacred of masks, the Baule of modern day Ivory Coast make use of the bo nun amuin mask (also called bonu amuin, amuin yasua or bonu amuen; meaning 'gods of the bush' or 'gods risen from the bush') to protect the village from outsider threats. The mask is also used during funerals of important male elders, former dancers and chiefs. Danced only at night, it is believed that the mask helps deceased elders become ancestors in the afterlife; these ancestors bring good fortune to the community and aid in the prevention of external threats.

Used also to discipline women, bo nun amuin masks threaten women into good behaviour. Women are forbidden to look at the mask (even during performances); those that do look risk illness, misfortune or even death. The masks are so sacred that even only a select number of men from a secret society are allowed to see the mask. It is considered taboo for anyone but the dancer to touch the mask.

When not in use, bo nun amuin masks are kept in a sanctuary outside of the village where they receive sacrifices.

Distinguishing Features

  • Forms vary greatly
  • Animalistic in nature
  • Two curved horns, joined at the tips, on top of head
    • Stretched out vertical or horizontally
  • Serrated curving band just below the base of horns
  • Ears can be broad or pinched out
  • Domed forehead
  • Protruding eyes and eyebrows carved in low-relief
  • Nose is long and straight
  • Square opening forms the mouth
  • Single or doubled mouthed mask in a variety of forms:
    • Open or closed
    • Toothed (with fangs) or toothless
    • Some elongated, smiling or stylised
  • Clenched teeth
  • Square / rectangular aw in cross-section
  • Some have animals or figures perched on head between ears

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