Bundu mask 47Bundu mask 47Bundu mask 47Bundu mask 47Bundu mask 47

Gola “Gbetu” Helmet Headdress

Helmet carved with deeply engraved bands of amulets, cowry shells, and a necklace with a heart pendant, above rises the desirable ringed neck, and the finial of a female head with a high forehead and finely braided coiffure. Areas of glossy black patina. Surface wear along perforated rim.
Note that Gbetu masks are not utilized by the Sande society but are rather used by men for public display on holidays, weddings, funerals and other special events but also, according to my fieldwork, associated in some ways to the all powerful male Poro Society. It seems that Gbetu masks are rare compared to Sowei masks, both in the field and in collections." (Mato, Daniel and Charles Miller, III, Sande: Masks and Statues from Liberia and Sierra-Leone, 1990, p. 109)

Neil Carey wrote the following about it: The Gbetu is a Poro mask, once thought to be a female water spirit (d’Azevedo 1970:42-43). These masks are very rare, and are used to show off men’s sexual power, like the Mano Koutoh. The Gbetu dances with a huge raffia costume that starts out at a normal height, but then, miraculously, slowly grows to more than twenty feet tall before the eyes of its audience. This is a purposeful enactment of the male erection process. The secret lies in telescoping bamboo poles that the masker conceals, but results in making the mask appear as a towering male phallic spirit. This helmet mask is actually a stylized image of the dance, a head on a long neck over a wide body. This situation, wherein the sexual symbolism is blatantly embodied in the form of the mask, is to be contrasted with the Mano Koutoh. Whereas the idea of male power is communicated by the Koutoh mask’s dance, the same function in Gola Poro is achieved through the Gbetu’s form. The overall style, a small head supported on an elongated accordion-like neck atop a large helmet body, is also seen in the Senufo Déguélé helmet mask. Besides the Gola, the Vai, De, Mende, and southern Kpelle have similar wooden helmet masks, called Gbetu among the De and Gola, but named Böwu (Borwu) among the Mende and Vai. The Gola claim that the Gbetu mask originated with them and was copied by the Vai and the Mende.

Warren d'Azevedo/Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology (#5-6252) The Costume of the Gbetu Masker The gbetu mask, worn by male members of the Poro society, is typically accompanied by a costume consisting of three skirts of raffia worn around the waist, chest, and neck. The ensemble resembles a haystack without arms or legs. The Gola are particularly fond of acrobatic performances; the term for such a person is anyun kwái dùlù—the magician or trickster. The gbetu performs with energetic and agile movements as it strides to and fro. It can rise to a considerable height and then suddenly collapse until it is nearly flush with the ground. Besides its ability to grow tall, the gbetu masker attempts daring feats, such as dancing with a lighted torch inside its dry raffia costume. Unlike most Poro masks, the gbetu is usually spoken of as feminine due to its ability to "give birth" to small dancing figures that emerge from beneath the raffia costume. Generally, these "children" wear only a raffia costume with no wooden head, but some scholars have recorded that the "children" also wear small wooden masks.

- Private collection, New York, USA
- Arte Primitivo, Howard Rose Gallery, New York, USA