Dan Figural Ceremonial Spoon Cote d'Ivoire
Elaborate spoons, sometimes in the shape of female figures, or with faces, were awarded to women known as wunkirile who had been judged by their peers and elders of their village to be the most generous and hospitable to others of their village quarter. Spoon shaped carvings such as this are best described as feast ladles used by their owner to offer food to others during public feasts. Known as 'wunkirmian' this spoon shaped figure incorporates body markings identifying their owner as a woman of the Dan people. The hairdress and body markings portray a woman at the height of her beauty and maturity, the personification of positive attributes of women among the Dan people.
Sculpted figures among the Dan or Yacuba are commissioned by wealthy or socially prominent men to represent their favored wife. Sometimes sculpted with a baby on their back the figures exemplify the ideas of fertility and continuity of the family. These relatively uncommon sculptures are known as ‚Äòlu me' or wooden person and can be over 60 centimeters in height. They do not portray ancestors but are stylized portraits of real individuals closely representing the hairstyle, body markings, and physiognomy of the wife. These sculptures are superb examples of Dan sculpture and were often the work of well-known artists who worked in secret away from women and children as they carved the lu me figures. In some instances lu me sculptures are made public to the village during a ceremony in which the man who commissioned the carving is recognized and gaining social prestige. These figures may also be kept in small houses and only publicly shown on special occasions. Her face and ears are well carved and shown in detail.
The Mande speaking Dan people of northern Liberia and neighboring Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire migrated south from present Mali and today live in forested regions as agriculturists. Also known as the Yacuba, the Dan live in politically non-centralized villages and towns ruling themselves through a complex arrangement of family lineages, men's secret societies, and conjunct initiation ceremonies. Known for their numerous wooden masks and masquerades the Dan share many cultural features which includes a dynamic masking complex with their Mano neighbors in Liberia and the We or Guere and Wobe in Cote d'Ivoire.