This Okuyi mask, ceremonial mask that represents the idealized face of a female ancestor, sculpted in wood, is manifested during religious celebrations. Okuyi masks are characterised by their realistic faces with well-marked lips, globular eyes carved with a curvature, high and arched foreheads, and high and rigid characteristic hairstyles reflecting the Punu hairstyles of women, which nowadays remain.
Reddish-faced, painted with kaolin and red pigment, and black hair, in the villages they are not visible, but in the twilight, when the night begins to fall, with the head wrapped with clothes to hide the head and the body of the dancer, who moves on huge stilts. With a melancholy look, with the serenity of the ancestor, they evoke the soul of a deceased one, protector, counsellor of the living from the realm of the dead.
A number of Punu masks can be recognised by diamond shaped scarification on the forehead, which are also observed in rectangular or square shape at the temples. These nine bumps are described by the cosmogony of the Punu in the following way: the central point represents the Supreme divinity, who has created the four cardinal points and the two primordial couples, founders of the Punu people.
THE PUNU (Gabon)
The Punu settled in Gabon in the provinces of Nyanga and Ngounie, areas of Ndende and Tchibanga and in Congo, in the Southeast.
Even though not much is known about the history of the Punu people, linguistic evidence suggests that they arrived in their current territory from the North, possibly driven by the expansionist pressure of the Kota and Fang peoples, who reached the border areas with the Punu country during the last centuries. This area had been occupied by various groups of Pygmies until the Bantu expansion.
Punu economy is based on agriculture, which has been developed on base of slowly stealing land to the immense and dense forests that surround them. They complete the family's diet with hunting and fishing and with the small number of livestock they breed, such as cows, goats, sheep and chickens. Surrounding equatorial forests also provide them with various fruits, palm oil and various types of tubers. Their main crops are bananas, yam, corn, peanuts and cassava. Agricultural tasks are divided between genders, with men doing land preparation work (forests clearing) and dealing with hunting, while women do the rest of agricultural tasks and take care of the house and children.
The Punu people live in small villages in the basin of the Ogowe River, which include the presence of several lineages and are leaded by a member of the community who has inherited his position through a matrilineal lineage. As far as it is known, they have never had a centralized social or political organization.
Like their neighbours to the North, the Kota and the Fang, the Punu carve wooden reliquaries with figures attached to baskets where the bones of their ancestors are stored and transported when the family moves to another location. This seems to indicate a similarity in religious practices with respect to the cult of the ancestors. Formerly, it seems that there was a Mukui society, which directed the religious affairs but hardly anything is known about it. They also have stories about rituals and dances that were held on the occasion of the death or the commemoration of the death of women in the family
- Indigenous object name
- Ethnic group/ culture
- Region/ country
- 2nd half 20th century
- Sold with stand
- 30×22×18 cm