This very large, impressive dance mask is from the Punu tribe in southern Gabon, Africa. Hand carved of a single piece of wood with an adze and colored with natural pigments, it dates to the late 19th-early 20th century. In height it is 17 inches, is 12 inches wide and 7 inches deep. The mask portrays a woman ancestor, with her characteristic majestic hairdo of the 1800's, her narrowed "coffee bean" eyes and pursed, protruding lips. Her domed forehead is scarified with a nine section design that has been interpreted as representing nine ancient family clans of the Punu.
In 1868, the explorer Paul du Chaillu published his book "L’Afrique sauvage. Nouvelles excursions au pays des Ashangos" (" Wild Africa: new excursions to Ashangos country"). In his book, he describes Punu women, who "... beautify themselves by tattooing their foreheads with a sort of scarring. There are often nine small round protuberances, about the size of a pea, arranged in a rhombus between their eyebrows. They redden their skin.... style their hair in various ways."
There is a hole carved out at the top of mask so that a pole may be inserted to hold the mask up while the dancer on tall stilts performing a ceremony could wear it tilted forward on his head. There is also a hole on each side of the mask for a strap or thong to hang up the mask when it is not in use. The sturdy cloth ribbon there now is of course a later addition but it does the job nicely.
This mask is in very good condition, especially for its age and usage, with some hairline cracks in the wood and normal wear to the pigments and a small missing piece at the top front edge of her coiffure. Although of imposing size (and great visual beauty), it weighs 2 pounds, 6 ounces, able to be safely hung on most walls. It's a handsome piece of indigenous African art you'll treasure.