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Poro Headgear mask, 20. Jahrhundert

About the object

The headdress represents a ground hornbill. It is dark brown and stands upright. The wings protrude like sails on either side. There are two rectangular holes in each wing. The mask comes from the village of Gbon. The swollen belly and the long beak of the hornbill symbolise the female and male power of reproduction. As a sign of fertility, the ground hornbill adorns many carvings of the Senufo, such as this headdress, which is worn during initiation into the Poro men's secret society.
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The ground hornbill is one of the five animals to which the Senufo attach symbolic importance, along with turtle, snake, crocodile and chameleon. Compared to other symbolic animals, however, it plays a prominent role in Senufo carving. We find representations of the ground hornbill mainly in religious masks and figures, but also in secular objects, for example, as heddle pulleys and in the traditional hairstyles of women. This large Poro bird is an impressive representation of the ground hornbill, which is worn on the head during ceremonies of the men's secret society (Poro). The bird's rotund belly is reminiscent of a pregnant woman, the long beak touching the belly recalls the male penis. In this way, the bird embodies both the female and male aspects of fertility. However, the Senufo associate the ground hornbill primarily with femininity and motherhood. The fertility goddess Ka Tiéleo appears in the form of the ground hornbill, among others. Author: Christine Bald, Translation: Timothy Connell

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