00:00
/
00:00
Unknown Maker
Hyena Face Mask (Souroukou Koun) Hyena Face Mask (Souroukou Koun)
19th-20th century 19th-20th century

The hyena mask (Souroukou Koun) in Bamana culture represents one of the core bush animals seen performing in almost all societal and religious ceremonies. Most importantly, the hyena is one of three animals associated with the Kore initiation society, the other two being the monkey and the lion. Young boys go through their initiation away from the village in the bush, where they must pass a series of physical and mental tests, and then symbolically die before being reborn as a man of the community. The men wear the masks once their initiation has finished and they return to the village, acting like the animal portrayed in the mask.

The hyena can have multiple meanings to the Bamana people, depending on the context. Within the Kore men’s association it can take on negative connotations such as gullibility and ineptitude, but it can also embody positive attributes including knowledge, teamwork and thoughtfulness. Scholars also report that, in some regions, the hyena is said to devour sorcerers, so it can also represent great power. Typically, though, the hyena and other animal masqueraders enact unacceptable behavior in order to mock immoral actions and promote appropriate social values and conduct. For example, the dancer performs semi-destructive acts, such as stealing or destroying crops, that some scholars interpret as ‘sympathetic magic’: they prevent the actual animals from doing the same things.

The aesthetic and physical attributes of the mask can be extremely varied, but there is generally an elongated face and a set of prominent pointed ears. The Souroukou Koun can also exist as hyena hybrids, sometimes having a human face or antelope horns.

 
Unknown Maker
Bamana peoples Bamana peoples
Hyena Face Mask (Souroukou Koun) Hyena Face Mask (Souroukou Koun)
19th-20th century 19th-20th century
wood, mirror, cloth, patina wood, mirror, cloth, patina
height / width / depth: 54.00 x 20.80 x 20.00 cm; 21.26 x 8.19 x 7.87 in.
Gift of Justin and Elisabeth Lang, 1984 Gift of Justin and Elisabeth Lang, 1984
M84-108

Subscribe to our “This Week at Agnes” e-newsletter to stay abreast of events, news and opportunities at the art museum.