Sirige ('Storied House' Mask)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The Dogon once believed that death did not exist, believing instead that immortal humans lived as serpents. However due to mankind breaking a religious restriction, people developed limited life-spans and eventually died. The first Dogon ancestor to die transformed into a serpent before metamorphosing into his permanent spiritual form. This change into the spirit form (nyama - 'soul and vital force of the ancestor') brought about negative influences to the community. As such, the villagers carved a wara mask (also called dannu; the 'Great Mask' or 'Mother of Masks') in the belief that the mask would hold the nyama of the deceased ancestor. As the wara mask is believed to hold the spirit of the first deceased ancestor, it is used during the Sigi ceremony, held once every 60 years, commemorating the transformational process of the first ancestor.

Derived from the wara mask, the sirige mask (meaning 'storied house'; also called tiû) is used during the funeral ceremony of deceased male community member that took part in a Sigi ceremony. The Dama ceremony, held every 10 - 15 years during a good harvest, takes place after burial as a means to guide the deceased's nyama out of the village and into the realm of spirits. Preceded by the kanaga mask, the sirige masquerade dances in the village square, reenacting what the Dogon believe to be the creation of earth and life. The athletic and skilled dancer swings the mask in circular motions, touching the tip of the mask to the ground to represent the sun and its life giving properties.

The mask itself represents the deceased's ginna (meaning 'lineage head's house') and as such it's also believed to represent the ancestral heritage and generational lineage of the deceased.

Distinguishing Features

  • Carved from a single piece of wood
  • Height = 15 - 20 feet (4 - 6 metres)
  • Elongated mask
  • Two parallel vertical ditches in mask
  • Two holes for eyes carved in ditches
  • Two pointed ears on mask
  • Stick connecting walls of mask (dancer clenches teeth on bar to hold mask)
  • Rope net attached to back of mask
  • Plank superstructure on top of mask
    • Flat plank superstructure 2-3 cm thick
    • Superstructure divided into solid and perforated sections
  • Black and white (and sometimes red) dye applied in alternating rows (sometimes with triangular patterns)
    • Rows of dark voided areas
    • Light / white solid areas in between
  • Sacrificial patina traces

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