Remarkable for its balanced volumes, the harmony of its features and the contrast of colours, this Punu African mask underlines the refinement of traditional sculpture linked to Bwiti rites. The hairstyle is arranged here in a spectacular curve composed of a high central shell extended laterally by oblong braids, the latter emphasizing the contours of the face.
The white African masks of Gabon, itengi, (pl. bitengi) were associated with the various secret societies of Gabon, including the Bwiti, Bwete, and the Mwiri ("to lead" ), the latter being spread over several levels of initiation, to which all the Punu men belonged, and whose emblem was the caiman (hence, for some, the pattern with saurian scales). The mask, evocation of a deceased young woman, was exhibited during the dance called Okuyi. The powerful secret societies, which also had a judicial function, featured several dances, including the leopard dance, the Esomba, the Mukuyi or the Okuyi depending on the place, acrobatic dance on stilts, remaining the most widespread. In some villages, at dawn or dusk, the Okuyi was accompanied by songs in an esoteric language that only initiates could understand. (Punu, L. Perrois and C. Grand-Dufay)
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