Okuyi Funeral Mask--Painting of an African Mask
Punu People, Gabon
One of the well known Punu art objects are the white masks, now known as the Punu masks.The masks are life size, they can cover a persons face. They are worn by the dancers in south Gabon. When there is a major community event the dancers wear these masks, one major event would be a dance preformed for a secret society. Male dancers are known to wear the Okuyi while dancing.The white-faced masks are also used by other Gabon and Zaire rainforest people, such as the Kotas and Mpongwe,. The Ashira also share in the white-faced mask tradition, which includes soft facial characteristics. The masks have been linked to the Mukui society and to female ancestor celebration dances, a funerary spirit association.
Black masks in Punu culture were worn by dancers as training masks, which preform first to announce the arrival of the white mask dancer which is more experienced. Sometimes when a misfortune happens to a group they take white masks and paint them black. This type of masks in only danced with in the dark at night. Different from the other two masks, these masks are rarely found in a museum because they used to hide them very well. They hid these masks because the belief that they are dangerous and they have an evil nature. This painting was inspired by a black mask.
The Punu feared evil spirits, they have always associated illness and death with being caused by someone and not as a natural event. People were jealous of successful people and they believe that their jealousy would cause the successful person harm or death. Illness was always seen as a work of an evil spirit and the only way to heal was by a special ritual to cast away the evil spirit's work
One in a series of eleven paintings inspired by tribal African Masks in museums and private collections. They were in use during the 19th and early 20th centuries.