Punu - Lumbu mask
Punu mask
Early to mid 20th century
11" tall x 7" wide
Provenance: From a private Rhode Island Collection
THIS MASK IS NO LONGER IN MY COLLECTION, it has been sold on www.RandTribal.com
While the white-faced masks produced by the peoples of the Ogowe basin appear more frequently in collections outside of Africa, black
masks in the same style are quite rare. Black Punu masks are linked to a judiciary process such as searching for witches, an enquiry into
a crime, or a trial by poison.

According to Louis Perrois, the category "masks with black faces" make up about 8% of the corpus of the Punu masks. The black-faced
masks represent angry spirits, and it is therefore considered potentially dangerous to handle them. According to Perrois (1979: 235) the
black patina on Punu masks is presumably an index of its more serious or darker role in judiciary services, potentially condemning the
living, whereas Punu masks layered in white kaolin are used in celebrations and funerary ceremonies, where the white surface marked
them as ushers of the other world. As with the white-faced masks they are found in different forms: hairstyles with double shells, rounded
central shells or flattened transverse shells and are found with linear or dotted scarification.

Refrences - The White Masks of South Gabon" - Louis Perrois and Charlotte Grand-Dufay
Images and information below
for reference purposes.
Black masks variation (LEFT):
• Musee Dapper, Paris, ex-coll. S. Chauvet. H.: 28 cm
• Musee Dapper, Paris. H.: 27 cm
• Musee du quai Braniy, Paris, ex-coll. A. Fourquet, M. de Vlaminck. H.: 30 cm
• Coll. Arman. H.: 30,5 cm (Also pictured further down in this page)
• Coll. B. Dulon, before 1927 H.: 32 cm
• Museum of Science, Buffalo (49117). H.: 26cm " Private coll., Paris. H.: 29 cm
• Musee des Beaux-Arts, Dijon (DG 691). H.: 30 cm.
Variant D (ABOVE) - Masks with scarified cheeks and foreheads:
• Ex-coll. Kerchache, Tara & Gillon. H.: 33 cm
• Musee Barbier-Mueller, Geneva 11019), 1939. H.: 26 cm
• British Museum, London |AF 27-245]. H.: 28,5 cm
• Institute of Art, Detroit |69460|. H.: 28,3 cm
• Coll. Simonis. H.: 32 cm
• Coll. Bellier, ex-coll. Palles. H.: 24 cm
• Sotheby's New York, 14/11/1995, lot 58. H : 26 cm
• Musee Dapper, Paris, ex-coll. Ration. H.: 30cm
From: The White Masks of South Gabon" - Louis Perrois and Charlotte Grand-Dufay
Face Mask - Punu, Gabon
Arman Collection
Wood, polychrome; H. 30.5 cm.
Formerly in the Tranpisch Collection.
Formerly in the A. Fourquet Collection.

— L. Perrois, Arts du Gabon, 1979, no. 264.
— A. Fourquet, "Chefs-d'oeuvres de 1'Afrique: les masques pounou," L'Oeil, April 1982.

From the book: African Faces, African Figures - The Arman Collection
SALE N08029  AUCTION DATE 11 Nov 04


LOT 104


ESTIMATE 30,000—50,000 USD
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   28,800 USD

height 11 1/4 in. 28.5cm

of overall graceful proportions and hollowed, oval form, the protruding demi-lune lips beneath
the naturalistic nose framed by squinting eyes, arching brows and ears folded forword, the
forehead with a deeply serrated medial ridge and wearing a striated coiffure in a crested topknot
framed by delicate tresses, the whole surrounded by a flange at the perimeter; fine blackened
and slightly encrusted patina.

Madame Schwob, Brussels
Merton D. Simpson Gallery, New York, May 1974

Tervuren, Musée Royal de l'Afrique Centrale, Art d'Afrique dans les Collections Belges, June 29
- October 30, 1963, catalogue number 768

The so-called black Punu masks are rare, with masks of this exceptional quality limited to less
than a dozen. For related black Punu masks see Perrois (1979: figure 258) for a mask formerly
in the Helena Rubinstein Collection; (ibid.: figure 264) for another; (ibid.: figure 270) for one
formerly in the Vlaminck Collection; Roy (1992: figure 101) for one in the Stanley Collection;
Robbins and Nooter (1989: 353, figure 915) for one in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo;
(ibid.: 355, figure 920) for another in the Mnuchin Collection.

The Rosenberg mask displays many of the stylistic attributes of the more common white masks
of similar refinement and quality, said to be modeled after beautiful women in the community.
According to Perrois (1979: 235) the black patina on Punu masks is presumably an index of its
more serious or darker role in judiciary services, potentially condemning the living, whereas
Punu masks layered in kaolin are used in celebrations and funerary ceremonies, where the white
surface marked them as ushers of the other world.
Black Punu mask
Galerie J. Germain, Montreal
Black Punu mask
Private collection Paris
Ex Alain de Monbrison Gallery
Black Punu mask
28 cm
Musee Dapper, Paris
Photo H. Dubois
PUNU, Gabon / Mask / Wood / H. 27.9 cm. (11")
Stanley Collection

While the white-faced masks produced by the peoples of the Ogowe basin appear
frequently in collections outside of Africa, black masks in the same style are quite
rare. Perrois suggests that the difference in color may indicate a change in
function. Among the Galoa and the Ivili of the lower Ngounie River, white okouyi
initiation masks are painted black to transform them temporarily into judgement
masks with the power to discover witches (Perrois 1979:253).

Here, as in the white Punu mask in the Stanley Collection (below), the facial
features are smooth, round, and naturalistic, with protuberant, crescent-shaped
eyes; a large, domed forehead; delicate, slightly puckered lips; and a beautiful

From the book: Art and Life in Africa - Selections from the Stanley Collection
PUNU, Gabon / Mask / Wood / H. 29.8 cm. (12")
Stanley Collection

In the drainage basin of the Ogowe River, the Punu, Ashira, and Lumbo peoples use
masks whose distinctive style has often been compared to the no masks of Japan. Most of
these masks from the Equatorial Forests have white faces with brilliant red lips and often
nine diamond-shaped scars on the forehead. The eyes are bulging half-moons. A number
of different elaborate hairstyles are represented.

There have been many reports concerning the function of these masks. Hans
Himmelheber (1960: ill. p.309) indicated that the masks are worn by men who dance on
stilts and carry a whip. They represent the spirit of a dead woman returned from the land
of the dead. The Swedish missionary Efraim Andersson saw a similar mask in Zanaga
village in the Kota area; there the mask was used in funeral ceremonies and in an
ancestral cult (Andersson 1953: 346). Several early reports state that the masks belong
to a society called mukui.

Although the features are indeed accurate representations of the Punu ideals of female
beauty (the horizontal lines between nostrils and ears represent small chains worn as
jewelry in the area) white is the color of death.

From the book: Art and Life in Africa - Selections from the Stanley Collection

Below are examples of white Punu masks with similar forehead scarifications for reference

SALE PF4098  AUCTION DATE 18 Jul 04 2:00 PM.

LOT 130


ESTIMATE 8,000—12,000 EUR
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   7,200 EUR

haut. 30 cm, 11 3/4 in

Ce masque constitue un très bel exemple du style développé en pays Tsangui, à la frontière du Gabon et du Congo. Le visage inscrit dans un
ovale régulier est orné des scarifications caractéristiques, une longue bande horizontale parcourant le milieu du visage, une autre, en "T" inversé,
gravée sur le haut front bombé. Les traits sont sculptés avec une grande finesse, la ligne des yeux plissés et fendus répondant à celle fortement
arquée des sourcils. La haute coiffure en dôme ajoute au très grand équilibre formel de ce masque.

La face, à l'origine blanche, a été enduite d'un jus brun, ainsi que l'intérieur du masque.

Condition Note: Légers éclats de surface.

This mask constitutes a very beautiful example of the style developed in Tsangui country, at the border of Gabon and Congo. The face registered
in a regular oval is decorated characteristic scarifications, a long horizontal band traversing the medium of the face, another, in "T" reversed,
engraved on the high face curvature. The features are carved with a large smoothness, the line of the folded and split eyes answering that strongly
arched of the eyebrows. The haute coiffure in dome adds to the very great formal balance of this mask. The face, in the white beginning, was
coated with a brown juice, as well as the interior of the mask.

Condition Notes: Light glares of surface

Merton Simpson, New-York

Reproduit dans Quelques Impressions d'Afrique, Château Notre-Dame des Fleurs, Vence, 1996, p. 287.
White mask with jugal scarification
Wood and pigment
Height: 26 cm
Ex-coll J. Mueller
Musee Barbier-Mueller, Geneva (inventory # 1019.30)
A Brown Punu mask from the Arman Collection
H: 29.5 cm

From the book: African Faces, African Figures
The Arman Collection
SALE NY7473  AUCTION DATE 19 May 00 10:15 AM.


LOT 34
ESTIMATE 30,000—40,000 USD
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   45,600 USD

A superb Punu mask
height 12 in. (31.8cm.)
of hollowed oval form, and pierced along the rim for attachment, the protruding diamond-shaped face with raised pursed lips
and slit coffee bean eyes set deeply beneath the arching brows, the domed forehead beneath a tripartite coiffure, and framed
by semicircular ears protruding to the sides; exceptionally fine encrusted kaolin patina on the face and encrusted blackened
patina on the coiffure; collection reference no. 7.

Acquired from George Vidal, Paris, 1968

Brussels, Salles du Theatre National de Belgique, Arts Primitifs, 14 April-5 June, 1971
Brussels, SocietE Generale de Banque, Masques du Monde, 28 June-31 July, 1974
Brussels, Centre Culturel du Credit Communal de Belgique, Arts Premiers d'Afrique Noire, 5 March-17 April, 1977

Claerhout, Arts Primitifs, 1971:no. 40, not illustrated
Dorisinfang-Smets, Masques du Monde, 1974:no. 69
Guimiot, Arts Premiers d'Afrique Noire, 1977:83

These masks, okuyi, were carved in the likeness of the beautiful women who had inspired the carver. Like the actual women,
some had scarification and others did not. Although women with scarification were admired for their strength in enduring this
process, it was not a universal practice. See Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Sculpture from Africa and Oceania (1990: no. 57) for
another fine example without scarification.

The offered lot shows particularly sensitive treatment of the face.

SALE PF5006  AUCTION DATE 06 Jun 05 5:00 PM.


LOT 42
[An exceptional Punu mask, Gabon]

ESTIMATE 200,000—250,000 EUR
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   
594,400 EUR

haut. 28 cm

alternate measurements
11 in

Le visage, au modelé très raffiné, est sculpté sous un large front surmonté d'une coiffe à coques multiples disposées en
étoile, les extrémités recourbées sur le pourtour du visage. Très grande délicatesse dans la gravure des traits : sourcils
en léger relief, ombrés, yeux « en grain de café » quasiment clos, paupières à peine gonflées et fendues selon une
courbe très tendue ; orbites en léger creux déterminant des pommettes bien marquées, nez à l’arête fine, bandeau
frontal à décor finement strié. La bouche se distingue par sa facture remarquable, lèvres étirées vers l’avant,
délicatement ourlées, légèrement ouverte, laissant entrevoir à la fois la langue et les dents - les incisives supérieures
limées en biseau. L'usure dans l'enduit de kaolin (pembé) laisse apparaître un bois clair. Rehauts rouge foncé sur les
lèvres et les scarifications à douze écailles, et noir sur la coiffe. Excellent état de conservation.

The face, with modelled very refined, is carved under a broad overcome face of a cap with multiple hulls laid out out of
star, the ends bent on the circumference of the face. Very great delicacy in the engraving of the features: eyebrows in
light relief, ombrés, eyes "in almost closed coffee bean", eyelids hardly inflated and split according to a very tended
curve; orbits in light hollow determining of the well marked knobs, noses with the fine edge, frontal scarification with
finely striated decoration. The mouth is characterized by its remarkable invoice, lips stretched forwards, delicately
hemmed, the slightly open one, showing the possibility for at the same time the language and the teeth - the upper
incisors filed in bevel. Wear in the kaolin coating (pembé) lets appear a clear wood. Appreciations dark red on the lips
and scarifications with twelve scales, and black on the cap. Excellent state of conservation.

Collecté dans la région de Mouila par le Dr. F., médecin de l'école de Santé navale, spécialiste des maladies tropicales.
Conservé depuis par la famille

From 1927 to 1930 Dr. F was attached to the Pasteur Lambaréné Institute, where he became acquainted with Dr.
Schweitzer, who also worked in Gabon. It was likely that during this period Dr. F collected this mask.

The offered “white” mask from Okuyi is highly unusual in the daring creativity found in its dimensions, particularly the
coiffure. According to Perrois (personal communication, March 2005), “ even if it is rarely to be seen in statuary and
masks of this type, the treatment of the coiffure and the carving on the face are not unknown in the South Gabon region
where it was first found. The “multiple shell’s over lapping the face and the same type of coiffure have been seen in the
Eshira tribe as well as in the Punu, the Lumbu and the Tshogo tribes, in regions stretching from the Fougamo region in
Gabon, the Mouila and Mimongo, in the mountains of Mayombe, the hills of the high Ngounié, all the way to the edge of
Congo Brazzaville.”

Cf. a Lumbo statue (Felix, 1995: 145), an Eshira statue and a Tshogo mask from the Itzikovitz collection (Perrois, 1979:
257 and 38). According to Felix (1995 – Annexes), this coiffure could come from the ancient Bayaka of Loango (the “
pre – Punu’s”) as would be suggested by the appearance of the yaa style statues from Congo Brazzaville or the Lumbu
“fetish” from the Gabonese/Congo coastal region (from Mayoumba to Pointe - Noire).

See also Chauvet (1936: 8 and fig. 37 and 38) for another mask similar to the offered lot: both show filed upper teeth
with a chamfered edge, an old tradition in the south of Gabon, notably in the in the Mayombe region (border of
Gabon/Congo Brazzaville).

In addition to the coiffure, the provenance and the appearance of filed teeth, the method the carver has fashioned the
keloids (each motif is supposed to represent one of the twelve original tribes in the Punu-Bayaka tradition) suggests an
origin in the region south of Mouila, towards Ndendé or Tchibanga, near to the mountain chain of Mayombe, according
the Perrois (idem.).

The undeniable age of this mask is shown by the following:
the patina, reflecting great age the shape of the mouth—of an ‘ancient’ type according to Perrois (ibid.), also seen on a
mask from the Chambon collection, Geneva, collected in 1905 by François Coppier (Perrois, 1979:242, ill. 257).
Compare also with another mask from the collection of André Lhote, in the collection of the Dapper Museum, Paris
(Dapper, 1995:87). This second mask shows a similar striated band across the brow.

Specific stylistic and iconographic elements allow us to compare the offered lots with other masks and statues. However,
the rarity of the type, and the exceptional beauty of this mask, make is highly unique. One can note specifically the
dynamic modelling of the face as well as the plastic qualities. The artist has carved the face in very light relief, giving an
expression of great serenity.

The white masks of the Okuyi (also known under the name of Mukudji or Mukuyi). See also an explanation in the theses
of Monique Koumba-Manfoumbi, 1987 and Alisa Lagamma, 1995. The masks serve in both community rituals and
important events of the village. In certain cases, the masked dancers, perched on stilts, ritually confront each other at
important discussions, each aided by his followers, to insist the point of view of one group onto the other.
Photograph of a Punu masquerader on stilts
Photo- Hoa-Qui

This mask is worn in masquerades during funeral celebrations. The white color, a
genderless attribute, signifies peace, the dieties, the spirts of the dead, and the afterlife.
The domed forehead, high cheek bones, delicately etched eyes, high arched eyebrows,
beautiful coiffure, and streamlined chin all represent feminine beauty of the Punu people.
The scarification arranged in a lozenge on the forehead and the the hair style similar to a
bivalve shell are also feminine attributes. It is said that the scarification has sexual meaning,
an arguement that supports that that these masks are female representations. Those
without sarification are said to be male. The lozenge generally is made up of nine fish
scales. To the Punu people, the number nine in multiples of three has symbolic meaning,
reoccuring in many rituals and ceremonies. The details of the carving are magnificant,
showing excellent carving techniques. Click on the images to view this mask in more detail.
One interpretation states that the incised line between the nose and the ears represents a
decorative chain of jewelry.

A dancer wears this mask, representing the spirit of a female ancestor, and a costume
covering his entire body made of skins and raffia. The dancer tilts this mask forwardand
preforms acrobatic tricks on the stilts, carrying a whip of dried grasses in each hand,creating
unusual sounds. As this dancer towers over his spectators, he is said to be dancing between
the living world and the world of the ancestors. (Seiber and Walker 80) (Ray) (Perrois)

For a fantastic reference on the Punu masks, I highly recommend the article
"The White Masks of South Gabon"
in the magazine
ART TRIBAL - number 8 (part 1) and number 9 (part 2)
Rand African Art
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