The bulging forehead, slim oval face, and intricate hair arrangement seen here are all common features in Guro female face masks, as is the inclusion of a figure atop the head. In the Guro tradition, these carvings can range can from birds to people. This mask may represent gu, who is a sacred forest entity and wife of another important creature, zamble (see M84-126 in our collection). Gu is generally represented by a female oval face mask topped with an intricate coiffure or horns. Compared to the zamble masquerade- which is high-energy, loud and requires endurance from the dancer- gu embodies grace, elegance, and slower movements. Her performance is also not accompanied by drums, but instead sound is created by ankle rattles worn by the male dancer. Zamble and gu differ from the coarse, rude and wild brother of zamble, zauli. Where gu and zamble embody appropriate social behavior, zauli is their antithesis, provoking the crowd with wild and unseemly movements.
The Guro language has no word for a mask as an object, for it is seen as a living entity. The masquerader expresses specific physical and expressive mannerisms that are consistently performed from one year to the next. The combination of mask, costume and dance brings the spirit to life, which is true of many West African masking traditions.
The Guro mask tradition is one that continues today, constantly changing to suit the times. This evolution is most evident in the choice of figural elements. For example, one famous Guro carver, Sabu bi Boti, created original designs that included the Brazilian soccer player, Pele. He also has created masks that include cultural ceremonies of neighboring peoples: after he saw a snake dance performance by the Dan peoples, he carved a similar female face mask topped with the scene he witnessed. The role of the masquerader has also evolved through the ages, and now there is a tourist culture that has allowed dancers and masqueraders to perform for an audience in exchange for payment.