Walu (Antelope 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.

The walu mask is used during the funeral ceremony of a 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. Masks representing humans and animals are preceded by sirige, kanaga and sim masquerades during the ceremony. The walu mask, said to represent an antelope (an animal admired by the Dogon for its strength and beauty) is one of the many animal masks danced during the Dama ceremony. It is believed that the walu masquerade's dance tells the mythical story of the creation of the antelope by Amma (the Creator God) and its subsequent demise in the hands of the fox (yurugu).

Distinguishing Features

  • The face of the mask is usually a rectangular box, like that of the sim mask
  • Two long, vertical & parallel channels carved out of face
    • Forming thin straight nose
    • Eye hole carved within each channel
  • Sometimes face is completely open
    • Triangular eye holes carved out
    • Short arrow-shaped nose
    • Protruding circular mouth
  • Horns on top of mask (usually striated)
  • Two pointed ears project from mask
  • Painted triangles whose colours vary by region
  • One hole at each side of mask
  • Pierced around the rim for attachment of rope net at back of mask

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