|Dogon Kanaga mask
In Dogon territory, the period between the death of a man and the end of the mourning ceremonies which close the funeral cycle is quite a
long one. If the deceased had held an important social or religious position, or had attended the Sigui sixtieth birthday ceremonies either in his
own village or in a neighboring region, then after the 'first funeral' the family will accumulate goods that can be exchanged to enable them to
organize a dance. This ritual preparation period for the 'departure of the deceased man's soul' is considered dangerous for the deceased's
own family and, by extension, the whole village. Numerous taboos are therefore enforced on them, while the homeless soul roams through the
village, haunting the various places he once frequented.
The function of the dama, apart from raising the taboos, is to master this secret force that emanates from the deceased and direct it through
the medium of masks to the sacred places where it will in some way or another be fixed. At the end of the dama the deceased will belong to the
ranks of ancestors. It is through them that the word of Amma, the Creator, will be transmitted again in all its vital force to mankind, fertilizing the
fields and making fecund the women and the cattle.
This recreation of an order that has been disturbed by death involves a wide display of symbolic practices: the deploying of masks, songs,
music and an abundant consumption of food and millet beer. Sometimes the dama may last as long as six days.
The beginning of the dama preparations is announced by the sound of the rhombe, which is a wooden or metal saw-edged plate whirled round
at the end of a rope by one of the initiates. The humming sound of this instrument is regarded as the voice of the very first ancestor.
From that moment, the circumcised members of the Awa— a mask society—repaint or carve afresh the masks that they will wear. This takes
place away from the village, in rocky shelters or in the bush. The hoods and the short skirts for the costumes are made from the bark of the
polio tree, and the long skirts from sanseviera fibres. These are plaited and dyed black, red or yellow. Cowries and various other ornaments
are fixed to the hoods and the breastplates.
When the masks emerge from the secret places where they have been fashioned, their arrival is announced in the village and the women and
children take shelter in their huts, since the members of the Awa are not indulging in a gay masquerade. They are actors in a cosmic theatre,
aiming to recreate the creation of the world, of men, of vegetable and animal species, and of the stars. What is happening is that this period of
danger and disorder that has been brought about by the death is now brought to an end by the evocation of the fundamental moments in the
genesis of the universe. The audience, enthusiastic but solemn, watches with great attention the development of the different stages in the
At the dama of a spiritual chief or a village notable, the place where the sacred dances are held is invaded by an impressive number of
different masks. Of these the most numerous and the most symbolic are the kanaga and the sirige masks.
The kanaga is topped by a short pole to which two parallel blades are fixed perpendicularly. Two small flat boards are placed at their ends,
upwards for the upper blade, downwards for the lower blade. The face of the mask is partly encircled by a crest of very stiff fibres, dyed either
red or yellow.
To the uninitiated, this mask evokes a bird spreading its wings. For those who have attained analogical knowledge through initiation, it is the
symbol of man, axis of the world, pointing to both earth and sky. Another interpretation links kanaga to the water insect which, at the birth of
the world implanted in the soil the first seed from which all other seeds and all human archetypes sprung. And the flat, crushed shape of the
pole of kanaga evokes the fall of the first trouble-maker, Ogo, the pale fox.
All these variations are included in one of the figures of the dance. The dancer, with a rapid movement of the upper part of the body, sweeps
the mask close to the ground, thus evoking the internal vibration that animates the matter created for Amma. The sirige mask has a
rectangular face divided by a vertical ridge with two hollowed spaces. It is topped by a huge blade, sometimes nearly fifteen feet high. This
blade, which is alternately painted and pierced, shows patterns of parallel lines and opposing triangles. Sirige means 'storied house', and
several meanings are concentrated into this term. There are the different stages of creation, the degrees severing the earth from the sky, the
curve of the arch, the genetic sequence and also, in the vertical parallel lines, the frontage of the ginna or 'family house', representing by
analogy the vast human family.
After a few steps, and following a rapid change in the drum rhythm, the sirige mask-wearer kneels towards the east Then he moves the top of
his body backwards and forwards, forcing the extreme end of the blade to touch the ground, and thus marking the limits of the horizon and the
cardinal points. As he raises himself up, he creates whirling horizontal motions with the mask which suggest the evolution of the sun around
the earth, analogous to the universe being created by the rotation of the divine axis.
Kanaga and sirige are followed by masks that are more familiar to the uninitiated, since they are made in accordance with a less abstract
concept. These masks evoke the behavior of some of the animals that haunt this part of the bush, encompassed by a loop in the River Niger.
They include, among others, antelopes, hares, lions and monkeys. Other masks mime the behavior of various Dogon social characters. There
is the "old man' mask, the young girl, with a face made from cowries and breasts of baobab fruits, the 'ritual thief, and the masks of caste such
as the 'blacksmith', the 'shoe-maker', and so on. Foreigners, too are represented in this vast pageantry. There is the mask of the 'Peul
woman', characterized by the head-dress peculiar to this ethnic group; the mask of the 'Bamana woman' and others. Sometimes there is even
the 'Missus', or white woman mask, and that of the 'Doktor', the ethnographer.
Source: The Dance, Art and Ritual of Africa - by Michel Huet
I currently do not have any Dogon Kanaga mask in my collection
Below are some examples for reference
The Dance, Art and Ritual of Africa - by Michel Huet
|Sotheby's - New York
African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art
Auction Date : May 12, 2005
Lot 32 : PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION A DOGON MASK
kanaga, the mask deeply carved to a dramatic point, the sagittate nose forming a medial ridge, framed by deeply
set rectangular eyes beneath a geometric superstructure composed of two opposing planks; aged surface with
areas of black, white, red and blue pigment.
height 36 1/2 in. 93cm
$ 5,000 - $ 7,000
|Sotheby's - New York
Arts of Africa, Oceania & The Americas
Auction Date : May 17, 2002
Lot 75 : A FINE DOGON KANAGA MASK
of highly abstract form, and pierced for attachment, with a cylindrical protrusion for the mouth beneath a thin
linear nose and overhanging brow framed by pierced square eyes beneath the abstract double cruciform
infrastructure; exceptionally fine and old patina of encrusted black and white.
$ 6,000 - $ 9,000
|Dogon masks at the Metropolitan
Museum of Art in New York
|Photo source (there are LOTS more where this one came from): Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives
|Good reference, visual and academic