Showcasing the art and ritual of the African and African-diaspora religions

Senufo Butterfly Mask

Catalog Number: J002


46.75" x 7.73" x 10.52"

1187.45 mm x 196.43 mm x 267.11 mm

Materials: pigment
Usage: N/A
Detailed Description of Significance:

The butterfly mask (yeboti) is one of several plank masks once used by the Bwa (Bobo-Ule) and Nuna peoples of Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso). Although individual carvers were free to add their own flourishes, most examples of butterfly masks follow the basic design evident in this example: a central section shaped like a circle, oval, or triangle, flanked by long wings, and with all major design elements lying along the plane of the wearer’s head. Some versions feature a miniature human head in place of the nose or held within the jagged teeth of the masks’ mouth. The design evokes the shape of a butterfly; the elaborate decorations of the butterfly mask suggest the colorful patterns found on butterfly wings. The butterfly in this context symbolizes the rebirth of life each year after the first rains, when butterflies emerge from their cocoons and flitter around pools of rainwater. Likewise, the plants on the mask recall airborne spirits of the bush that can both bless and protect. Other masks used by the Bwa and Nuna peoples refer to other animals, such as the antelope, bush buffalo, bush pig, crocodile, fish, hawk, monkey, snake, and vulture.