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Punu (Puno) People

Location: Southern Gabon, Republic of the Congo

Population: 40,000

Arts and History: The arts of the Punu reflect the area in which they live, where the veneration of ancestral remains is the source of much of the art. Masks are the primary mode of expression for the Punu. Like their neighbors the Fang and Kota, there are some impressive statues thought to have a "guardian" function. Though rare, these statues can be extremely beautiful. The famous, one might even say ubiquitous, face masks are worn with a colorful full-body costume. Though many have an Asian-like expression, no such connection has been established. Known as "duma" or "mvudi," masks represent a female guardian spirit, and are danced at the initiation of young girls, funerary rites, and ancestor rituals. In the "Mukui" society, the masked performer, sometimes on stilts, performs at a dance of the full moon. Punu masks are characterized by a white, kaolin-covered face, a diamond shaped scar on the forehead, and full lips. These masks are highly-stylized and strikingly three-dimensional, though there is little variation in appearance from mask to mask. History: Little is known of Punu history, though they are thought to have moved into the area from the north. They are of Bantu stock, and bloodlines of the Bantu, in general, can be traced back at least 2000 years. The Bantu, who perhaps arose in the far eastern portion of modern-day Nigeria, displaced hundreds of indigenous cultures in their rapid expansion to become the dominant linguistic group in all of Africa.