February 25, 2016

2328 CONGO-BRAZZAVILLE - A Punu mask

The Punu, or Bapunu (Bapounou), are a Bantu group of Central Africa and one of the four major peoples of Gabon, inhabiting interior mountain and grassland areas in the southwest of the country, around the upper N'Gounié and Nyanga Rivers. Bapunu also live in the Divenie, Kibangou, and Mossendjo districts of the Republic of the Congo. They live in independent villages divided into clans and families, and social cohesion is ensured by a society known as moukouji, whose role is the subjugation of the harmful forest spirits.

The Punu traditions recorded a migration from the south before the 19th century, as a result of wars somewhere between the Congo and Niari River. In the 19th century they gathered rubber, and participated in the slave trade, sending both their own and acquisitions from further inland to Loango and Fernan Vaz. Punu economy is based on shifting hoe farming conducted in fields that have been carved out of the rain forests through slash and burn techniques. This is supplemented with hunting, fishing, and livestock.

There is very little known about the Punu religion, but similarly to their neighbors to the north, the Fang and Kota, the Punu carve wooden reliquary figures which are stylistically different, but similarly attached to a basket carrying the bones of individual family ancestors. This seems to indicate a similarity in religious practices in regard to ancestor worship. During ceremonies and rituals, often funeral, are used white pigmented masks and statues, the white alluding to the anti-witchcraft functions.

In performances the dancers, wearing the costumes of raffia or cotton fabric and animals pelts, move with amazing acrobatic agility on stilts up to six and a half feet in height. The dancers start to learn stilt walking as children. The first noted sighting of a Punu Okuyi (white mask) was Paul Du Chaillu in 1865. Some of the first recognised owners of Punu masks were both Matisse and Picasso who had Punu masks in their collections in the early 20th century.

About the stamps
The stamp is one of the series of three issued in 2008 in honor of Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza (1852-1905).

African art and history of the Punu tribe - For African Art
What is a Punu Mask?, by Crane Jewelers

Sender: Jitendou D. Jingo
Sent from Brazzaville (Congo-Brayyaville), on 15.01.2015

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