The Dan people originated in a northern section of western Sudan, what is now part of Mali and Guinea. As early as the 8th century, they began migrating towards the Ivory Coast, and eventually Liberia. Stories of “primitive” mountain people and warfare have kept new settlers and invaders at bay. The area in which the Dan occupy is acutely remote and isolated. The landscape has made for difficult passage to the Christian missionaries, allowing the majority of Dan to continue practicing their traditional animist beliefs.


Religion of the Dan is based on traditional animist beliefs and practices. The Dan acknowledge a creator God, Zlan, but believe that no one can reach or see him, so instead, they worship du, a spiritual power that is more accessible and resides in every human being. Du is thought to permit reincarnation from one person to another, or at times, an animal. After death, some du remain bodiless, inhabiting the forest as bush spirits.

The Dan believe the world is divided into two realms; the human realm, surrounded by the village and people, and the spirit realm, residing in the forest encompassed by spirits and wild animals. The forest is considered sacred, only after saying a prayer while wearing specific special materials, can one cross into the spirit world. Masks are often used as a bearer of these objects.

When a man wishes to visit the supernatural realm, he dons a mask and is transformed into a spirit. During the ritual, the masker will enter into a deep trance in which he is compelled to speak in tongue. A wise man is given the task of translating the message, often giving words of prodigious knowledge.


The Dan are known for their superb woodwork. Masks are the single most paramount form of artwork created by the Dan, creating a bridge between the supernatural and physical worlds.

Gle or ge are terms that the Dan people use to refer to masks and also the spirits that reside in the mask during masquerades. In order for a spirit to embody a mask, someone must first have a dream that reveals the nature of the spirit, and a council of elders will then decide whether the ensemble should be created.