Bugle (War Mask)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The Dan believe that ‘in’ and behind’ this world exists an essential force called which is usually described as a power that is present in all aspects of the world. manifests itself as invisible spirits which may take the form of men or animals. There are some spirits which in order to realise a physical nature, must rely on men to create a tangible form for them as masks or figures. The causes a man to dream of it and then instructs him in the means through which it must be materialised. One type of spirit prefers to be manifested as a masquerade - these are the mask spirits.

All spirit masks are described as ge by the northern Dan and as gle or glö by the southern & western Dan (meaning ‘mysterious being’). These masquerade spirits wish to help men and to advise them, revealing their desire through dreams. The masquerade does not merely represent a spirit, it IS that spirit.

Every spirit masquerade has a proper name (e.g. wuti = black antelope / slü = falcon / gao = diana monkey). In addition they often have another title / a praise name or one which explains the function or significance of the masquerade. Bugle masks are designed to frighten the audience. The bugle masquerade dances and causes unrest and disorder within the community to provoke a reaction. It is believed that the bugle mask was worn in pre-war ceremonies to prepare the village for war2.

For more, see the article on ‘Masquerades Among the Dan People’ on the Art & Life in Africa website, hosted by the University of Iowa Museum of Art (UIMA) HERE.

Distinguishing Features

Common features among all kagle masks:2

    • Made of wood
    • Masks are a considerable size
    • Eyes are usually either triangular or round, projecting as tubes, or carved out
    • Powerful exaggerated mouth with large inset teeth
    • Carving is deliberately rough
    • Usually covered with dark thick patina
    • Visor-like forehead
    • Row of stylised horns on the forehead
    • Face tends to be less flat and to have boldly projecting surfaces
    • Roughly pentagonal outline

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