Punu Okuyi or Mukudji Mask
The creator of a “mukudji” mask would attempt to capture the likeness of the most beautiful woman in his community.
Origin: Gabon, Equatorial Guinea
Approx Age: Early 20th Century
Materials: Wood, kaolin metal loops
Dimensions cm: 31 tall x 20 wide
Ref. Number: 1635
A very serene Punu Okuyi or Mukudji mask from Gabon. Very old mask and does show signs of minor deterioration, wear and tear over most of the mask, beautiful styled face and coiffure, traditional scarification, with a row of loops around the neck of the mask and a hole in the top of the inside of the mask.
This mask type from the Punu, called ‘okuyi’ or ‘mukudji’, represents a ‘beautiful girl’ coming to the living from the afterlife to pay a benevolent visit.
The ‘Okuyi masks’ are worn by men in full-body costumes who stand on 2 metre high stilts during ceremonies, feasts and at markets. ‘Okuyi masks’ were carved from light-coloured, lightweight wood, their faces were white by means of kaolin, while their hair and the rim of the mask were dyed black. The mouth and the typical tribal scarification marks on the forehead and both temples (in the form of a nine-part diamond) were generally coloured in red tones or, as in this case, dyed black. The shape of the eye slits, that seem Asian, is characteristic of all ‘Okuyi masks’ of the Punu tribe, however, they have nothing to do with the Japanese ‘No masks’. Aside from the diamond shape on their forehead and temples, the ‘Okuyi masks’ of the real Punu (in Gabon) bear no other scarification marks on their faces. The ‘Okuyi masks’ of the sub-tribe Punu Tsengi (or Punu Tsangui), however, have additional, linear decorative scarification on their faces. This way they can be differentiated.
The creator of a “mukudji” mask would attempt to capture the likeness of the most beautiful woman in his community. The subject of this particular idealized and stylized portrait was embellished in classic nineteenth-century fashion with a coiffure composed of a central lobe and two lateral tresses and with cicatrization motifs on the forehead and temples. Kaolin taken from riverbeds, which was associated with healing and with a spiritual, ancestral realm of existence, was applied to the surface of the face. By using this material, the artist both celebrated the beauty of a mortal woman and transformed her into a transcendent being.
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