People of Africa
Fauna & Flora
- Countries -
Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, Africa
Guere, Guro, Mano
Types of Art:
Dan sculptors mainly produce masks which deal with virtually every element
in Dan society, including education, competition, war, peace, social regulation,
and of course, entertainment. They also produce stylized wooden spoons and
intricate game boards used for "mancala", a common game of "count and capture".
Oral traditions describe the Dan society of the 19th century as lacking any
central governing power. Social cohesion was fostered by a shared language and a
preference for intermarriage. Generally, each village had a headman who had
earned his position of advantage in the community through hard work in the
fields and through luck as a hunter. They usually surrounded themselves with
young warriors for protection from invading neighbours and exchanged gifts with
other chiefs in order to heighten their own prestige. Out of this custom was
born the basic tradition of tin among the Dan, which was based on displaying
one's success in order to build a good reputation and name.
The African tradition of tin working is still an essential part of the Dan
economy today. Young people strive to make a name for themselves by lavishly
spending at community feasts to demonstrate their wealth. Although farming and
hunting have been largely replaced by labouring in the diamond camps or working
at the rubber plantations, the establishment of a hierarchical social order is
still based on the individual's ability to succeed.
It has been only recently, through the creation of the leopard society (go),
that a unifying political organization has emerged among the Dan. The secret
political society centers around the powerful spirit go, who is responsible for
peacemaking. Although the power of go seems to be increasing throughout Dan
society, individual villages still maintain a high degree of political
independence, and the economic power of the individual is still highly valued.
The Dan world view holds that everything can be divided into two separate
and clear categories. The primary dichotomy is between village and bush, in
other words, things that have been controlled by man and things that have not.
Crossing over the dividing line is dangerous business, and whenever it is done,
whether to clear new fields or simply crossing the forest, the bush spirits must
be appeased. In order to take part in village life, the bush spirits must take
corporeal form. The Dan believe that all creatures have a spirit soul (du),
which is imparted onto humans and animals from the creator god, Xra, through
birth. One's du is immortal and is passed on after death to a new being.
However, some du remain bodiless. They inhabit the forests as bush spirits and
must establish a relationship with a person if they wish to be manifested and
honoured. Often the spirit will request the chosen person to dance the spirit,
utilizing a mask to illustrate the spirit's embodiment.