PUNA SPIRIT MAIDEN MASK, Gabon, encrusted patina.

Title: Puna female mask, large, Gabon, encrusted patina
Type of Object: Face Mask
Ethnic Group: Puna
Country of Origin: Gabon
Materials: Wood, pigment and patina
Approximate Age: Mid to Late 20th century
Dimensions: 12 1/2 inches tall
Overall Condition: good.  Most of our African pieces have spent decades on at least two continents, and have been treasured by several owners.
Damage, Repair: chips and scrapes in places, stain, minuscule holes from old insect damage arrested.  White pigment on face is worn.  Small splits, scrapes and cracks are a normal part of their patina attesting to their age and extensive use.

Spirit Maiden Masks portray a beautiful maiden with her whitened face and serene expression.


This mukuyi mask, originating from the Puna in southwest Gabon, represents and idealized female face. The orange scarification on the face area, consisting of nine dots, has a sexual connotation. Another sign of female gender is the single cone coiffure.

The ritual function fulfilled by these masks is normally at funeral ceremonies, when they are danced as embodiments of the spirits of the ancestors.  In the masquerade, the dancers, wearing costumes of raffia or cotton fabric and animal pelts, move with amazing agility on stilts up to six and a half feet in height.

No holes for wearing. ‘Mmwo Spirit Maiden Mask” portrays a beautiful maiden with her whitened face and serene expression. As in life this beautiful maiden wears an elaborate hairstyle shown through polychrome colors. The mask would be worn with a colorful costume covering her body.

Although the mask has an Asian expression, no such connection has been established. Known as duma or mvudi, it represents a female guardian spirit in the initiation of young girls, funerary rites, ancestor cults, and also in dances of the full moon.

The refined features and elaborate coiffure of the Puna mask mirror the appearance of tribal women. Social cohesion is ensured by a society known as Mukuyi, whose primary role is to subjugate harmful forest spirits. The white pigments on mask allude to the anti-witchcraft powers of this group.

The Puna make only masks of women, with elaborate hairstyles, features which appear somewhat Asian, and white kaolin pigments. They are worn by mukuyi initiates, who are often on stilts. They are thought to represent ancestor’s faces.


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