Punu (Apono, Bapunu, Mpongwe, Pounou, Puno), Gabon
Okuyi ceremonial mask. This equatorial forest people form part of the intricate network of Gabons forty ethnicities. Punu masks represent idealized female ancestors' faces. The masks painted white have realistic faces, and the hairstyle resembles the hair arrangement of the women of the region. The three-part coiffure and the diamond shaped marks on the forehead and on the temples indicate that the spirits are still members of their ethnic group even after death. The white color of the mask (still visible) is a symbol for peace, deities, spirits of the dead, and the afterlife. The performances of these masks are nowadays intended primarily to entertain audiences on festive occasions. Only rarely do the masqueraders fulfill a ritual function of officiating at funerals, when they dance as embodiments of the spirits of ancestors. The dancers, wearing costumes of raffia or cotton fabric and animal pelts, move with amazing agility. The realistic effect is rapidly dispelled when the mask is worn by the stilt dancer lifted in the air to a height of fifteen feet. The eerie drama is intensified because the maskers often dance at the time of full moon.
Size: H. 12, W. 8, D. 5