210842 - Old Tribal used African Senufo mask - Iv. Coast.


Old Tribal used African mask from the Senufo, Iv. Coast.

Hand carved from a single piece of dark wood.

Height: 44 cm.

This Senufo mask was collected between 1960 and 1980 and ended up in my private collection in 1995.

The Senufo people, also known as Siena, Senefo, Sene, Senoufo, and Syénambélé, are a West African ethnolinguistic group. They consist of diverse subgroups living in a region spanning the northern Ivory Coast, the southeastern Mali and the western Burkina Faso. One sub-group, the Nafana, is found in north-western Ghana.

The Senufo people are predominantly animists, with some who are Muslims. They are regionally famous for their handicrafts, many of which feature their cultural themes and religious beliefs.

The Senufo are predominantly an agricultural people cultivating corn, millet, yams, and peanut. Senufo villages consist of small mud-brick homes. In the rainy southern communities of Senufo, thatched roofs are common, while flat roofs are prevalent in dry desert-like north. The Senufo is a patriarchal extended family society, where arranged typically cousin marriage and polygyny has been fairly common, however, succession and property inheritance has been matrilineal.

As agriculturalists, they cultivate a wide variety of crops, including cotton and cash crops for the international market. As musicians, they are world renowned, playing a multitude of instruments from: wind instruments (Aerophones), stringed instruments (Chordaphones) and percussive instruments (Membranophones). Senufo communities use a caste system, each division known as a katioula. In this system the farmers, known as Fo no, and the artisans at the opposite ends of the spectrum. The term artisan encompasses different individual castes within Senufo society including blacksmiths (Kule), carvers (Kpeene), brasscutters (Tyeli), potterers, and leather workers, whose lives revolve around the roles, responsibilities, and structures inhabited by the individual class. Training to become an artisan takes about seven or eight years; commencing with an apprenticeship where the trainees create objects not associated with the religion of the Senufo, then culminating with an initiation process where they obtain the ability to create ritual object.

Regionally, the Senufo are famous as musicians and superb carvers of wood sculpture, masks, and figurines. The Senufo people have specialized their art and handicraft work by subgroups, wherein the art is learnt within this group, passed from one generation to the next. The Kulubele specialize as woodcarvers, the Fonombele specialize in blacksmith and basketry work, the Kpeembele specialize in brass casting, the Djelebele are renowned for leatherwork, the Tchedumbele are masters of gunsmith work, while Numu specialize in smithing and weaving. Outside the artisan subgroups, the Senufo people have hunters, musicians, grave-diggers, diviners, and healers who are called the Fejembele. Among these various subgroups, the leatherworkers or Djelebele are the ones who have most adopted Islam, although those who convert retain many of their animist practices.1