Dogon Dananna Hunter Mask

A nice example of a Dogon Dananna hunter mask from the ex-collection of Seward Kennedy.

Tribe: Dogon

Origin: Mali

Approx Age: Mid 20th Century

Materials: Wood

Dimensions cm: 30 tall x 17 wide

Ref. Number: 0926




An exquisite and intricate carving of a Dogon Dananna hunter mask, this stunning item is really nice old piece and from an old UK collection recently dissolved. I have not seen many of this style with the unique open nose structure with the continuation to the mouth piece, a real beauty. This mask does show age related cracks and imperfections but only to be expected with a piece of this age. Tiny remnants of old pigment is visible in a few places.

PROVENANCE: Ex Seward Kennedy Collection.


Traditionally Dogon masks are controlled by the Awa society, a group of predominantly male initiates. The society’s age-grouped membership functions outside the standard Dogon organising factors of lineage and village. It conducts the public rites that insure the transition of the dead into the spirit world. A large number of masks are included both for the funerary rites and for the dama, the celebration at the end of mourning. The Awa leaders also direct the Sigui, a celebration held only every 60 years to mark the change in generations. While more than 70 different Dogon masks have been identified, they can be grouped into five categories according to medium, whether fibre or wood; subject, whether animal, human or abstract; and character, whether predatory or non-predatory. Based on the French ethnographer Marcel Griaule’s 1938 publication of photographs of a mask from Ireli, this wood mask is a predatory human, specifically a hunter. Noteworthy traits include the dark encrusted surface, the flat face and the projecting mouth that originally had millet-stalk teeth. The most distinctive feature is its nose, which Griaule described as a “human profile.” It resembles the top of an animal head with a long snout or jaw. Such a mask would be worn by a man more than 20 years old, the senior age-group in the Awa society. His costume would have been an ordinary tunic covered with leaves, combining domesticated and wild materials, and he would have carried a sword, a lance and a leather bag with medicines. In a pantomime rather than a dance, Dannana aggressively hunts another masquerader, the rabbit, but fails to catch him. The rabbit in this context is the trickster, intelligent and cunning, able to defy man. The pairing of hunter and rabbit may refer to the myth recounting how the first hunter mask was created. A skilled hunter killed an antelope, and both the rabbit and the hyena asked for a share. After much discussion and some chasing, the rabbit tells the hunter that the hyena attacked him, whereupon the hunter kills the hyena. It should be noted that the Dogon consistently describe the hyena in negative terms: as an unprovoked attacker, ugly and smelly, and with a repulsive voice. In the myth, the hunter tells his father about killing the antelope and the hyena, and his father dies. The hunter perceives his father’s death not as a coincidence but as being caused by the killing of the two animals. This is in keeping with the virtually universal African belief that all illnesses and deaths have more than physical causes. The Dogon myth concludes with the hunter carving masks. Griaule infers that the hunter wanted to protect himself from the spirits of the animals he killed. The other human predatory masks–a foreign warrior, a sorcerer and a mythic ancestor–also have associations with death and disorder.

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