Dan bird mask

Q:  I picked this mask up recently. It was just too interesting to pass up. After looking around a bit I really can’t find much information other than it’s possibly a Dan mask from Africa. It measures approximately 17″ long x 7″ wide. Any information would be appreciated.  Todd, 1118

A:  The masks of the Dan culture of Liberia and Ivory Coast are among the most easily recognized of Africa. The forehead and round eyes remind you of their Deangle masks, but this bird mask has a huge beak that sets it apart. Occasionally we see other animal masks used by the Dan that represent monkeys and crocodiles. I believe these animal masks are called Gagon. This example of a long-billed bird is carved beautifully. Note how thin the walls are. Thin masks are hard to carve, but easier to wear. It certainly looks like the real deal… an artifact that was used in culture.  B+



  • Eric

    This was not used in culture. It’s a Dan-themed fantasy design that started being made by west African tourist trade carvers around the mid 1990’s. Apart from the fantasy design which is not true Dan, the interior is stained darkly and polished to give the illusion of age – in true Dan masks the interior is always a light coloured unpolished wood.

  • Bob Ibold

    Todd wrote to me: Just want to know the validity of the reply by Eric about the mask.

    Here is my reply: I believe Eric is a specialist in African traditional art. The Mask Man has to deal with hundreds of cultures around the world that indulge in masquerade. I don’t know a lot about the Dan people, or any other culture. Also remember that carving masks for sale to tourists and exporters has been a growing industry in most of Africa since the colonial period began. I would guess that 99% of the masks available in today’s market are made for sales only. Many of them you recognize immediately, but some are expertly carved and aged to look like “the real deal.”

  • Chris

    Nevertheless the mask is proficiently carved. Dear Eric, if you could please share your opinion as an expert on the mask number 803 in the AskTheMaskMan archive…it’s mine and I still lack any info as of provenance and possibly authenticity. This would be highly appreciated, thanks a lot.

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