Skip to main content Smithsonian Institution

Catalog Data

Elisofon, Eliot  Search this
Collection Photographer:
Elisofon, Eliot  Search this
1 Slide (col.)
Vai (African people)  Search this
Mende (African people)  Search this
Archival materials
Color slides
Scope and Contents:
The photograph depicts Mende or Vai masquerader from the Dance troupe of William Lewis. Mr. Lewis was at the time director of Folklore and Culture Affairs in the Liberian government. "The Vai, Mende, Gola, De and southern Kpelle have an helmet-shaped wooden mask known as Gbetu among the De, and Gola and Bowu among the Vai and Mende. This mask closely resembles the masks of the Sande society except that it is surmounted by a long ringed neck with a small head at the top. Its costume consists of three skirts of raffia worn around the waist, chest and neck, which looks somewhat like a haystack without arms and legs. The movements of the Gbetu are energetic and acrobatic as it proceed with great swishing motions. It can rise to a considerable height and then suddenly collapse until it is nearly flush with the ground." [Siegmann W. and Perani J., 1976: Men's Masquerades of Sierra Leone and Liberia. African Arts. Regents of the University of California. Published by UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center]. This photograph was taken when Eliot Elisofon was on assignment for Life magazine and traveled to Africa from August 18, 1959 to December 20, 1959.
Local Numbers:
E 2 VAI 2 EE 59
Title is provided by EEPA staff based on photographer's notes.
Collection Restrictions:
Use of original records requires an appointment. Contact Archives staff for more details.
Collection Rights:
Permission to reproduce images from the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives must be obtained in advance. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.
Masquerades  Search this
Masks  Search this
Musical instruments  Search this
Clothing and dress -- Africa  Search this
Color slides
EEPA.1973-001, Item EEPA EECL 3922
See more items in:
Eliot Elisofon Field photographs
Archival Repository:
Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art