Dan people, Lénapleu village, Man region, Ivory Coast

19th Century


According to the label at the back of this mask, this is "A funeral mask transformed into a hunting mask. Dan country, Yacouba tribe, Lénapleu 1932. Collected by mission Tranin".

According to our research in old colonial newspapers and publications at Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Edmond Tranin (see photo illustrated here from the colonial archives, date?) was a french colonial officer and explorer notably famous for having conducted the first west-east crossing of Africa with a motor vehicle. Starting from Conakry in November 1924, Tranin and his partner Gaston Duverne, crossed Guinea, Mali, Burkina-Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Tchad, Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia to finally reach the Red Sea in February 1925 (illustration 2). In total 14.000 km on board a 10 HP Rolland Pilain, a trip, which Tranin frankly said later, he would "recommend to nobody" ("Le monde colonial illustré", March 1925).

We find a new trace of Edmond Tranin in 1929, this time with his wife Dr. Claude Tery-Tranin, on a "medical investigation mission" in west and in central Africa ("L'Oeuvre" journal, 3 aout 1930) 

But the most interesting pieces of information regarding our mask is in the "Gouvernement général de l'Afrique occidentale française (Bulletin hebdomadaire d'information et de renseignements)" dated 7 November 1935 where it it reported that "Madame Tery-Tranin [...] arrived in Dakar 5 November and is joining her husband in Ivory Coast". In "La Chronique Coloniale", dated 30 March 1936, we learn that Dr. Claude Tery-Tranin "coming from Man" [where our mask is from] made a stop in Dakar during a regional medical mission and then that she "came back  to Man where she lives". 

Indeed "Lénapleu" ("ple" is village), the village mentioned on the old label, is a small village in the Man mountains region. So we can reasonably believe what is on the label, that Tranin (or his wife) collected the mask during their stay in Man in 1932.

As for the name "Yacouba", this is an old subgroup name for the Dan people living mainly in the mountains region of today's west Ivory Coast and Eastern Liberia.

Now when it comes to the mask itself, in effect it seems the eyes were recarved at some point during its time in use. But it seems difficult to verify if it was "Transformed from a funeral mask into a hunting mask" as the label says. However, art historian and Christie's International Head of African & Oceanic Art Department Susan Kloman, in an essay about a Wè mask with a recarved nose and mouth (Origins: Masterworks of African and Oceanic Art, 17 may 2018, Christie's, p. 43), explains that "The character, status, and function of these masks could evolve during the life of their owner [...] For example, in the course of its career a mask associated with entertainment could transform into a mask used for judgment purposes. Though the appearance of a mask often did not change substantially throughout the years, its reputation often evolved through age, as they served a purpose during several generations".

This in a very old mask.At the back the wood is worked as it should and the surface is deeply oxidized. The front surface is shiny, with a deep and varied patina of use on extremities (rim, nose, frontal scarification, eyebrows and mouth)

The expression is wild, with aggressive eyes, a blowing like cubistic mouth and triangular nose, contrasting with the organic forehead line and oval shape of the mask. Both the label, the style and the surface place the object in the 19th century.

The "Tranin" Dan mask comes from a California estate, is in good condition and sits on an "Inagaki style" custom base by Romain Laforêt.

H: 21 cm (8 1/4 inches)

Price : enquiry

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