Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Mali
Ethnic group: Kufulo
Vernacular name and meaning: Kponyungo is the semi-public name (nyun-go means "head"; kpoo wii, high mid-tone,
means "the dead one" or "corpse" and kpoo, high tone, means "to kill".) Thus, a broad translation of Kponyungo is
"funeral head mask".
Mask- carved, wooden, zoomorphic helmet mask; same dome shaped helmet and antelope horns as on the Gbon
masks. The Senambele see the masks as basically an antelope head that is given additional selective features for both
symbolic and decorative purposes. The antelope represent specific species, a fact that accounts for some important
'style' differences to be observed in collections. Kponyungo masks tend to be more elaborate then the austere forms of
the Gbon and after 1950 were painted with lavish polychrome decorations. Whereas the Gbon usually has only the
chameleon figure on the crest, the Kponyungo frequently has a group of figures, which may vary slightly from one mask
to another. A Common grouping is a bird (fish eagle, long crested helmet shrike, or hornbill) biting a chameleon attached
to a cup form, the latter a reference to a container for magical herbs and leaves. Another element can be a female figure
added to the muzzle of the mask. Occasionally a magic bundle of porcupine quills and feathers is inserted into holes on
the head and muzzle, but is not a consistent feature, as it is with the artisan helmet masks. The most critical features are
the warthog tusks and the antelope horns.
Jump suit with drawstring neck and straight-cut legs and sleeves (hands and feet allowed to show in contrast to the
conservative Gbon raffia costume) painted in deep red dyes or sienna brown with geometric and figurative patterns.
Each suit has a unique design.
The masker carries a large, double-membrane, cylindrical drum beaten with a flexible, bludgeonlike stick. The
Kponyungo is accompanied by an age mate playing the most sacred of the Kufulo Poro society drums, a long narrow
cylindrical one played with a bent stick.
Ancestor rites in the commemorative funeral for graduates of the Poro society. The Kponyungo masks, one for each
participating Poro organization, drum by the side of the carved wooden bed used in Central Senufo funeral ritual. This
ritual always takes place by the small kpaala (a long wooden shelter with stacked layers of wood poles placed at
alternating angles, serving both as domestic courtyard furniture and as a visual reference to the ancestral lineage of the
katiolo chief) of the lineage group to which the dead man belonged.
Source: Art and Death in a Senufo Village
(This page contains a lot of images)
|Photo and text above from: Art and Death in a Senufo Village
|The complexity of the Senufo funeral rites derives both from the importance of the event and from the danger incurred by
the whole group. The spirit of the dead man roams around the village and lingers in the spots he used to frequent. If this
force is allowed to roam freely around, it could bring back the original chaos. It is therefore essential that it should be
captured. The initiates alone have the power and energy to overcome the dead man's spirit.
The Tyolobele blow on great horns made out of a single piece of wood. These are the nanaa, and they evoke the roar of a
lion. The Poro dignitaries beat on thin, high-pitched drums called tyepingdaana. They are accompanied by the laladyogo,
an enigmatic character muffled up in a cotton cloth which reveals only the eyes. On his head he wears a large plaited straw
hat decorated with the white and black feathers of a fishing eagle. Finally, the Poro masks join the procession. Among them
are the kponyungo masks with their tyobige drums.
The strange procession follows the tracks of the dead man's soul through the village and up to the bed on which his body
lies. One of the kponyungo masqueradors then takes a small armpit drum, jumps up on the bed and stands astride the
corpse, all the time beating a rapid beat on the instrument with his fingers. He is assisted by an initiate who shakes iron bells
to the same rhythm. The function of this ritual is to stress, with the help of the music, the power of the Poro society, and also
to chase the dead man's soul right away from the village and the cultivated fields and into the region of the dead.
Source: The Dance, Art and Ritual of Africa, by Michel Huet
|This piece was in the exhibition "Grave Matters - The Art of Memory and Mourning" at the Loveland Art Museum in Colorado (shown above)
|Very nice, rare, old and large Kponyungo mask with 4 figures on top
Signs of age and wear, some repair to one of the horns and the base of the mask.
36" long x 17" tall x 14" wide
This piece is MUCH better appreciated in person so you can look closely at the detail and repair and look at the inside of the mask showing the signs of
wear and use. At first you might look at this piece and see that it is brightly painted and discount it for that fact, but these particular types of masks were
painted and were re-painted many times over their lifetimes.
I have had several very knowledgeable people examine this piece and it's been vetted as an authentic example dating from the 1950's. When I was first
offered this mask it was an extremely hard decision for me because I was not immediately taken by it. I had wanted one in a different style and not one of
the ones that were painted. I sat down with it for about an hour examining every inch of it and after an hour I finally decided that I would purchase it. The
mask is the most expensive thing I have ever purchased for my collection, and against my better judgement I didn't get a 2nd opinion on the piece before
I purchased it. I think that my decision to purchase this mask was a good one and I truly love it and it has become one of my favorite pieces I own.
|Below are some photos of the mask in my old apartment
|Kponyungo masquerades and tyolobele Senior intiates from five seperate Kufulo sinzangas appear together at a
funeral for a Kufulo elder ( May 1970).
|(Photo above) Poro members with zoomorphic helmet masks at a funeral, Dikodougou district, Ivory Coast, 1970
Photo: Anita Glaze