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An African Tribal Mask Masterpiece – Likely Seen in a 1953 Hit Movie & Collected in That Period.

You are bidding on a mid 20th century collected tribal dance mask of the Mossi people of Burkina Faso.

This is a version of the rarely seen on the tribal art market Flying Serpent Mask worn by dancers at the funerals of distinguished and high-ranking members of this community.

Unless collected by Western observers these masks were usually destroyed or discarded.  Thus we believe it is likely that this mask, offered here, is one of several similar masks danced at an exclusive  Mossi funeral presented as a scene in the hit 1953 20th Century Fox  film White Witch Doctor staring Susan Hayward and Robert Mitchum.  The film was set in the then Belgian Congo but features tribal sequences from several localities in Africa including Burkina Faso.

We present a few snapshots from that film showing how the masks are positioned on the heads of the dancers.


So in the early 1950s, in a spectacular piece of theater, the wearer of this mask, a young, strong, well trained dancer, covered in a cloak of rattan, with the large but lightweight mask tied tight to his head and balanced on his forehead, carved great circles in space when he spun around, then described great arcs when he bent backwards and then forwards, occasionally touching the point to the earth and then souring into the air when he jumped.   This rare mask of the Mossi people in Burkina Faso, West Africa was danced once to honor the death of a high dignitary and insure the departed soul gained access to the world of his ancestors and was reborn. It was collected shortly after the ceremony and made its way into the important & extensive tribal art collection of Dr. H. Yonit, late of Long Island, NY, where it resided for over 50 years. For the Mossi people this ”Flying Serpent Mask” was unique to the life of the honored tribal leader and there is no other like it. For us, it is a stunning reminder that we are all capable of transformation and rebirth.

The Mossi people
Burkina Faso, West Africa
Mid 20th Century
Wood (Ceiba pintandra), pigment, paint
5 feet 5 ½ inches L x 8 inches W x 9 inches D

Exquisite /Rare Mossi Snake Mask  Burkina Faso painted in white/brown  with geometric design. Please check pictures and thanks for looking

Finely decorated  masks such as this rarely come on the market and would be of good addition to any collection.

This is an extremely rare Serpent Mask of the Mossi people that shows influences from other nearby tribes including the Bwa people, the plank masks of the Girunsi Nuna people as well as influences from the Dogon people’s Giriwongo Masks.

This is a museum quality, tribal used mask, from Burkina Faso with Bwa, Nuna & Dogan influences

Excellent Condition.  This piece spent decades being treasured in a private collection.  Small splits, scrapes and cracks are a normal part of the patina attesting to this masks age and extensive use.  We examined this piece carefully when we received it and we can report no damage.  Please look carefully at the pictures which may also reveal condition and damage.

The Mossi are today the largest single group living in Burkina Faso. They originated from horsemen who made their way north from present day Ghana during the 1500’s. The Mossi are renowned for their masquerades and the use of large, superbly sculpted and brightly painted masks and colorful costumes. Mossi elders are highly honored with elaborate funerals and the appearance of masked dancers with masks representing ancestors and various spirits and forces of Nature in dramatic and often vigorous dances.
These animal masks are all representations of the totem animals for specific clans. In a clan village, the killing of an animal identified with the clan is the same as killing a person. Burkina Faso is a land of masks, with figures scarce across all groups.

Recommended Reading:

Christopher D. Roy, Thomas G.B.Wheelock, Land of the Flying Masks. ART AND CULTURE IN BURKINA FASO. THE THOMAS G.B. Wheelock COLLECTION, 2007

Roy, Christopher D. Art of the Upper Volta Rivers. Meudon: Chaffin, 1987

Roy, Christopher D. Land of the Flying Masks. Munich: Prestel, 2007.

Pick up locally in Oceanside, Long Island, New York or we can offer a number of shipping options and we aim to work with your various time and budget constraints depending on your needs.   We recommend that you arrange shipping via you-ship-it dot com. We are available to field any questions that may arise regarding logistics.

Great decorative piece; resembles the head of some exquisite Bird of Paradise in flight.



About Perry

Over 40 years
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