These seven maskettes are individually hand-made works in ebony wood, but they represent a type of carving that is mass-produced in Senegal for the tourist-trade. Such sets of seven maskettes are marketed to the tourist community as wall hangings that represent the seven days of the week. The material, color, and size of the masks unites them as a group, and the masks that represent human characters are made with similar traits, including matching facial features, shapes, and scarification patterns. However, each maskette is also readily identifiable as imitating a traditional mask made by cultures of Western Africa, particularly those from Senegal’s neighbor countries of Mali, Côte D’Ivoire, and Burkina Faso. The models for the maskettes were likely selected for aesthetic appeal rather than for meaning, however, as they range in purpose from masks for entertainment and celebrations to those for initiation rituals and funerals. Thus, while the maskettes communicate some information about the traditional art of Western Africa, they also reinterpret these works into a different material and a different format, creating a whole new form of art with its own purpose and meaning.
The “Monday” ebony maskette is based on the Goli Glin mask of the Baule culture. The Goli Glin mask is the representation of a supernatural animal from the “bush,” or wilderness. Evident on both masks are the long, slender jaws of a crocodile and the tall, twisted horns of an antelope. The Goli Glin represents strength, and these masks are danced at funerals and at ceremonies to protect the community from evil and sorcery. The mask is considered to be so powerful that women and children are warned not to look at it directly. Researched by Codee Ratliff
The “Tuesday” ebony maskette is based on the Lo mask of the Yaure culture, also known as the Yohure culture. The Lo mask is a representation of the powerful, dangerous female spirits known as yu, which help to guide deceased persons into the spiritual realm and bring balance to the community; young women are not allowed at ceremonies where the Lo mask is danced because the power of the yu is believed to prevent female fertility. Like this maskette, Lo masks are black and have calm features and simple, rounded coiffures. They also have ridges along the sides of the face and often have scarification. Protruding from the top of the Lo mask is the representation of a hornbill bird—either a complete bird or, as on the “Tuesday” maskette, a stylized hornbill beak. Researched by Codee Ratliff
The “Wednesday” maskette is based on the “Beautiful Lady” mask of the Senufo culture. This mask, also known as the kpellie mask, represents an ideal woman’s face in abstracted form. The horns and “legs” that protrude from the top and the bottom of the mask, along with the geometric shapes that protrude from the sides of the mask, refer to traditional hairstyles worn by Senufo women. The downcast eyes, straight nose, small mouth, and scarification, along with the overall calm expression, refer to ideal female features; a stylized hornbill bird or hornbill beak, symbolic of female power, usually adorns the top of the mask. The Senufo are a matrilineal culture, and the “Beautiful Lady” mask is danced by members of the Poro men’s society during boys’ initiation ceremonies as well as at the funerals of important women, to honor the woman, to help ensure that she departs the community, and to guide her on her way into the afterlife. Researched by Codee Ratliff
The “Thursday” maskette is based on the Mblo mask of the Baule culture. Each Mblo mask, also known as a portrait mask, represents and honors important women in Baule communities. The masks are relatively homogeneous and idealized in facial features, with calm expressions that represent beauty and refinement. Nevertheless, Mblo masks are identifiable as representing individuals through specific identifying features, including shapes and details of the coiffure and scarification. Some masks are also supplied with a knob or even a false beard at the chin. Researched by Codee Ratliff
The “Friday” maskette is based on the N’tomo Society mask of the Bamana culture. The N’tomo mask is most identifiable by the flat, comb-like set of horns that project from the top of the mask, which vary in the number of “teeth.” N’tomo masks are worn by young men while they are being initiated into Bamana adult society. The masks are used in rituals and masquerades that teach the young men self-control, how to accept discipline, and how properly to administer discipline. One difference between the ebony maskette and actual N’tomo masks is that, like the other ebony maskette human characters, this maskette has scarification, while these Bamana masks and the young men who wear them do not have scarification, as they do not represent those who have already entered into adult society. Researched by Codee Ratliff
Like the “Friday” maskette, the “Saturday” maskette is also based on the N’tomo Society mask, but the N’tomo mask from the Marka culture, a sub-culture of the Bamana. Both the Marka and Bamana N’tomo masks are worn by young men during initiation into adult society, and the masks are used to teach the young men self-control, how to accept discipline, and how properly to administer discipline. The primary difference between the two masks is that, while the Bamana N’tomo mask has horns that resemble the teeth of a comb, the Marka N’tomo mask has two slender, twisting horns that project from the top of the head and represent the horns of an antelope. Marka masks also generally tend to be more stylized and to incorporate more metal than Bamana masks. Researched by Codee Ratliff
The “Sunday” maskette is based on the kobe mask of the Bobo culture. This maskette, along with the “Monday” maskette, are the only two fully zoomorphic maskettes. Like the kobe mask, the “Sunday” maskette depicts a waterbuck antelope with a slender, elongated face and a squared tip, as well as long horns projecting from the top of the head; both masks also have small, rounded ears on the sides of the head, between the eyes and the horns. Bobo kobe masks are used in initiation ceremonies and at funerals of important individuals. Researched by Codee Ratliff