Old Dogon Kanaga Mask

A lovely old Dogon Kanaga mask from an old French private collection.

Tribe: Dogon

Origin: Mali

Approx Age: Later 19th Century

Materials: Wood

Dimensions cm: 90 long x 15 wide

Ref. Number: 0077



A very old Dogon Kanaga mask fragment, the upper and lower arms are missing from this piece but show in black where they once were. The very top of the mask is rounded off and chipped where during the dance of the Dogon Kanaga mask the dancer bends over forward and sweeps the end of the mask across the surface of the floor. This mask has been estimated that it was carved at the third quarter of the 19th century.   Ex Private French collection.


The “Kanaga” mask can be interpreted in different ways: crocodile, creator genius, but also “bird in flight”. According to the latter interpretation it represents the bird “kommolo tebu” with spread wings and black and white plumage, when after its shooting the hunter carved the first “kanaga”.

One of the most popular types of masks in the Sanga region is the type known as kanaga. Like other Dogon masks, kanaga masks are worn at rituals called dama, whose goal is to transport the souls of deceased family members away from the village and to enhance the prestige of the deceased and his descendants by magnificent masked performances and generous displays of hospitality. In 1935, French anthropologist Marcel Griaule witnessed a dama ritual in which twenty-nine out of a total of seventy-four masks were of the kanaga type. These masks are characterized by a wooden superstructure in the form of a double-barred cross with short vertical elements projecting from the tips of each horizontal bar.

When the mask is worn, the back of the dancer’s head is covered with a hood of plaited fibre fringe at the bottom edge. The dancer wears a vest made of black strip-woven cloth and red broadcloth strips embroidered with white cowrie-shells; strands of glass and plastic beads dangle from its edges. The kanaga dancer also wears a pair of trousers made of indigo-dyed, strip-woven cotton cloth, over which he ties a long skirt of curly, loosely strung, black-dyed sanseveria fibres and short over-skirts of straight red and yellow fibres. For a traditional dama, the preparation and dyeing of the fibres are undertaken with as much secrecy and ritual as the carving of the wooden mask.

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