Africa

Buying a Punu mask

The famous white masks of the Punu people were worn during the okuyi performance, one of the rites of mwiri, an important male initiation society spread throughout southern and central Gabon. They are characterized by a face with youthful features, half-closed eyelids under slightly raised arching eyebrows, a fine realistically-rendered nose, a mouth pursed forward with full red-painted lips, painted red, and an elaborate crested coiffure. The hairstyles of these masks can vary.

I think all three of the masks shown here may be authentic, but there are many reproductions that look just as good. These repros can be found today for as little as 100 dollars. An authentic Punu maiden mask would cost many thousands.  What all collectors must avoid is the “authentic” mask at a “bargain” price. This warning applies to all masks… especially those from Africa, where making reproductions has been a profitable business since the late 19th century.  Full disclosure: I just went to eBay and looked at 188 Punu masks and would not buy any of them! So a good buy won’t be easy. Let us know if you score a good repro.  1385

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