Kpelie (Ancestor Mask)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The social, economic and spiritual lives of Senufo men are governed by an overarching initiation society known as Poro. A Senufo man must pass through all stages of the initiation society to be considered a rounded man with full insight into ancestral teachings and traditions.

Each stage of the initiation process has associated masks including the kpeli-yëhë mask (meaning 'face of the jumping performer' in the Kafiri dialect with yëhë meaning 'face'; also called kodöli-yëhë in Kufuru dialect, kpelie meaning 'dead face', kpeliye'e or gpelihe). The kpeli-yëhë mask is used during harvest time to thank the ancestors for a good crop. Considered feminine, the masqueraders wearing the mask also dance during funeral celebrations to honour deceased Senufo elders (alongside the more aggressive wanyugo masquerade) and it is believed that the mask leads the spirit of the deceased away from his home and into the ancestral realm.

NOTE: It is believed that a large number of kpelie masks in the market have been made specifically for the tourist market as souvenirs.

Distinguishing Features

  • NOTE: Masks exist in hundreds of variations
  • Made of wood or brass
  • Height = 10 to 15 inches
  • Oval female face close to natural proportions
  • Mouth is usually projecting sometimes with teeth showing
  • Arched eyebrows form a continuous pattern
  • Long slender nose
  • Slightly bulging slit eyes
  • Scarification marks represented on face
  • Two or more geometric projections symmetrically flanking each side of face
  • Central set of projections considered to represent ears
  • Emerging from either lower side of mask, two tapering, oblong projections (leg-like pendants)
  • Central crest surmounting forehead
  • Sometimes symmetrically flanked by horns (bull horns up, ram horns down)
  • Range of vertical forms crown face

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