Dancing shield "Dan"
Dan people, Côte d'Ivoire/Liberia, mid. 20th century, private collection from Finland.
The Dan (also called Gio or Yakuba) are an ethnolinguistic grouping of people inhabiting the mountainous west-central Côte d'Ivoire and adjacent areas of Liberia. There are approx. 700,000 members of the group and their largest settlement is Man, Côte d'Ivoire. Neighboring peoples include the Krahn, Wee, Kpelle and Mano. The Dan are closely related to the Guere (also spelled Ngere or Gere) to the south.
The Dan are primarily a farming people who annually clear forest land to grow their staple foods including rice, cassava, sweet potatoes, and a variety of maize. The Dan also raise livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats, and chicken. Some of these animals (white ones) are eaten only on special ritual occasions involving much feasting, or to perform sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin. Dan men have their own fraternal societies, which marks their initiation into manhood and guides them throughout their lives. The secret poltical society centers around the powerful leopard spirit (Go or Gor), who is responsible for peacemaking. All males attend the "bush school" (Bon), during their initiation into these societies when they are adolescents. These societies controlled by the elders and acts as a source of power for the community.
The Dan have a complex traditional religion. The Dan believe that the world can be divided into two separate and clear categories; the human realm, surrounded by the village and people, and the spirit realm, residing in the forest encompassed by spirits and wild animals. Crossing over the dividing line is seen dangerous, and whenever it is done, whether to clear new fields or simply crossin the forest, the bush spirits must be appeased. The Dan acknowledge a creator God (Zlan) who created the universe and everything in it. They believe that no one can reach or see him physically, so instead, they worship Dü (Zu), a spiritual power that is more accessible and resides in every human being. Dü is thought to permit reincarnation from one person to another, or at times, an animal. After death, some Dü remain bodiless, inhabiting the forest as bush spirits. Dü is harnessed through masquerade or divination practises, the Dan harness Dü by creating an object for Dü to embody. Often the Dü will request the chosen person to dance the spirit, utilizing a mask to illustrate the spirit's embodiment.
When a man wishes to visit the supernatural realm, he dons a mask and is transformed into a spirit. During the ritual, the masker will enter into a deep trance, which he is compelled to speak in tongue. A wise man is given the task of translating the message, often giving words of prodigious knowledge. Dan refer masks as Gle or Ge, terms that refers both to the physical masks and the individual spirits the mask is believed to embody during masquerade performances. Whether or not they are worn, such masks are spiritually charged. It is believed that each Gle has it own personality, dance and speech pattern. The male performers (Gle-zo), experience a dream sent by the mask spirit that allows them to dance it. The Dan masks are divided into two large groups of masks: the Ge bande and Ge nome. Ge bande is the most sacred examples of Dan masks while Ge nome is alower rank of masks. The classifications relate to the content which the Dan attribute to the mask, rather than the appearence of the mask. In performance, the masks are integrated into the hierarchial system that governs political and religious life.
Smaller and simpler decorative dancing shield. Painted with black soot and oil, white kaolin clay and red pigment. In many African societies, the color white are associated with the spirit world or death. Light wood. Good condition. Age-related wear, abrasion and minimal fractures and cracks. Wormholes. Nice patina. Size approx. 39,0cm x 22,0cm.