Cosmic Connections

Bedu moon mask, Nafana, Ivory Coast, mid 20th century (National Museum of African Art collection)

Soul washer's disc, Akan, Ghana, late 19th- early 20th century (National Museum of African Art collection)


Bedu moon mask, Nafana, Ivory Coast, mid 20th century

Bedu masks are performed according to a lunar cycle. The typically tall and brightly colored plank masks appear in pairs, a smaller male mask, often identified by crescent-shaped horns and quick and unpredictable actions, and a larger female mask, usually depicted with a disk superstructure and by slow and graceful movements when performed.

Bedu, which are found among the Nafana and neighboring groups around the region of Bondoukou in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, may be performed to mark the beginning or the end of the dry season, the latter to announce the rains.  They are also performed for communal end-of-year festivals associated with important ancestors and the founding of villages and, more recently, at political events.

Soul washer’s disc, Akan, Ghana, late 19th– early 20th century

The golden disc-shaped ornaments called akrafokonmu are worn by members of Akan royal courts.The ornaments, often called soul discs or soul washers’ badges, are emblems of office for court officials who maintain the spiritual well-being of the king and by extension the nation.  Pendants bear designs that speak to the royal context in which they are worn.  For instance, the fern depicted at the center of the pendant with its cord still intact refers to the Asante proverb, “the king does not fear insults.”

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