Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Mali
Kpelie mask
"It is a delicately carved mask combining both human and animal features. Although it was always owned
and worn by a man, Kpelie represented the concept of feminine beauty and fertility. The unique features
which characterize the Kpelie mask include elongated flanges radiating from the bottom part of the mask,
which are a reference to the hornbill bird. The horns on the mask refer to the ram, an important sacrificial
animal. The nodules on the forehead represent palm nuts as well as vulvas; they are flanked by
cicatrization marks that symbolize the twins born to the primordial couple. The Kpelie mask was used at
initiation in the societies for boys, adolescents, and adults, at funeral rituals designed to lead the spirit into
the land of the dead, and at harvest festivals to thank the ancestors for a good crop.

Kpelie- whether in carved wood or cast bronze copper alloy-- are usually oval in shape with arched
crescent shaped eyebrows over narrow slit eyes. The small mouth opens below a slender nose.
Scarification marks add to presentation of what is considered beautiful to the Senufo. On either side of the
temples are semicircular and rectangular shapes that represent the stylized coiffure worn by Senufo
mothers; the center shapes at the side representing ears. Animal horns-- bull, ram or antelope-- represent
male attributes of the masquerade. There are often two appendages on either side of the chin, "legs" that
connect the spirit to the earth. Most important are the figures on the head, which represent an ancestor
closely connected with the society's origin. The figures worn depend on the caste group to which the
individuals belong. However, much of the original significance of these emblems is no longer valid. Wassing
has provided the following meanings: a comb, the symbol of agriculture, a bird- especially the hornbill--
linked with the smiths, a bundle of palm nuts, symbol of wood carvers, and small human figures connected
with merchants. The hornbill--one of the first creatures on earth-- is an important symbol for the Senufo
and appears on many of their carvings.

Other styles of Kpelie exist in other region of Cote d’Ivoire. Along with the facemask, components of the
masquerade include things held (an iron staff or horsetail dance whisk), the instrumental accompaniment,
the lyrics sung, and the costume. The costume consists of a collar or cloak make of long fibers, a knotted
robe decorated with black lozenge shapes (a diamond shape symbolic of the cycle of human life), and a
bunch of red fibers." - Africa Art of a Continent
I currently do not have a Senufo Kpelie mask in my collection.

Below are photos I took of 2 examples from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY
Some examples from Sotheby's auctions
Sotheby's May 2002 - LOT 87

Property from a Belgian Private Collector

10,000—15,000 USD
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   8,365 USD

height 11 3/4in. 29.9cm.

kpelie, of hollowed oval form, the pointed chin beneath a jutting mouth with labret, the
linear nose leading into arching brows above cheeks with linear scarification and pierced
slit eyes, the sloping forehead with raised scarification, and the face framed by elaborate
abstract appendages, '042' in black pigment on the reverse; fine and encrusted medium
to dark brown patina.

Collected in the vicinity of Korhogo, Côte d'Ivoire by Simon Escarré in the 1930's
Sotheby's November 2003 - LOT 34


35,000—45,000 USD
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   45,000 USD

height 12in. 30.5cm

kpelie, of oval deeply concave form, the thin perimeter pierced for attachment, the diminutive jutting facial plane
with pursed lips beneath the philtrum pierced through and inserted with fiber, and a slender T-shaped nose
framed by pierced, slit eyes and bands of incised scarification, the delicate sloping forehead with a raised ridge
leading to elaborate abstract appendages at the crown and surrounding the face; exceptionally fine, slightly
glossy and worn dark brown patina with areas of encrustation.

Collected in the Côte d'Ivoire by Simon Escarré, number 24/40

Holas 1978: 58

Senufo kpelie masks of such remarkable refinement as the offered lot are rare. The closest comparable example
is the well-known mask now in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts (see Kan 1995: 56, number 12),
formerly in the Harry A. Franklin collection and exhibited in the seminal 1964 show Senufo Sculpture from West
Africa at The Museum of Primitive Art, New York (see also Goldwater 1964: 15).  The two masks can be
compared with respect to overall quality of carving, attention to delicate detail and sensitive proportions, as well
as the exceptionally fine treatment and age of the surface patina.

These masks were worn during funeral rights staged by the Poro association. 'The festivities' climax is marked
by a masquerade, which symbolically expresses the fundamental dualities in Senufo thought: male/female,
body/spirit, life/death' (Kan ibid.). This particular mask represents a beautiful woman. The feminine aspects of
the mask are symbolically expressed--'the lustrous black surface radiates like the youthful skin of a beautiful,
marriageable young woman. Ornamental flanges framing the face are the baubles and bangles adorning a fine
Senufo woman's traditional coiffure. ...Additionally, the rows of nodules on the crest are interpreted as the pods
of the kapok, a splendid tree associated with civilization and human settlement' (ibid.).
Sotheby's - Paris
Paolo Morigi collection : Important African Art
Auction Date : Jun 6, 2005

Etude Ader, Paris, le 27 juin 1989, n° 11

An exceptional Senufo mask, Ivory Coast

The kpeliye'e masks represent the face of an ideal woman. They are part of the poro men's society, and their role
has multiple levels: to exercise political and social control, to transmit traditional knowledge, and to play a religious
function. Specifically, in the case of funeral ceremonies, the kpeliye'e masks are supposed to chase the spirit of the
deceased from the house. According to Garrard ( in Barbier, 1993: 86-105), these masks were inspired by the do,
in particular, the mask of do muso (beautiful woman) from the Dyula. The Senufo share the geographic zone
around Kong and Bondoukou with the Dyula. The curving lines flanking the lower part of the mask can be
interpreted as a stylized version of the ear ornaments found on old masks from Bondoukou.

The Morigi kpeliye'e is unusual within the corpus of related masks for the additional of an exceptional motif,
repeated three times?the addition of a miniature kpeliye'e mask decorating the border of the mask. Cf. Goldwater
(1964: cat. N 25) for a related mask showing a miniature bust.

This mask, sculpturally remarkable, is characterized by the incredible tension between the accentuated curves of
the face and the elements protruding from the head into space. The blacksmiths fonobele and the specialists in
wood, kulebele, are divided in Senufo country, between the masks and sculpture, here in the Morigi mask we see
an extremely high plastic quality which allows us to attribute this mask to a kulebele sculptor.

haut. 36 cm

14 1/3 in

Estimate: € 50,000 - € 70,000  
Price Realized: € 0