Inside the jungles of the Ivory Coast are the bridges of spirits. It is made with lianas bridges being built by supernatural beings of the forest.
A great part of the mythology of the Dan is born in the heart of the jungle, in these labyrinthine forests teeming with life, where their deities live, and where nature and magic melt into one. The Dan have always respected and venerated their natural surroundings, as something sacred, as it is the indisputable genesis of their cosmogony. In the interior of this green world, we find the bridges of the spirits.
But these are not the work of man. The supernatural beings of the forest themselves build these bridges, to make it easier for the men who live here to move through the forest. Hundreds of lianas, the resistant living limbs of the jungle, are woven together in the dead of night by the spirits. At dawn, a new bridge connects the opposing banks of a river, or crosses a deep ravine.
No one knows how or when they are built. But for them they are sacred, because they are made with lianas, and everything that comes from the jungle is revered. That is why they take their shoes off before crossing, as a mark of respect.
The chief of the secret society of the initiated, responsible for the spiritual welfare of the people, is also the guardian of the bridge. He will decide when they must stop using it. No bridge lasts longer than a year, because the lianas lose their elasticity and become fragile and liable to break. Then, they are destroyed. At dawn, the people come to the river, and see that the bridge has disappeared just as mysteriously as it appeared. The wisemen then meet with the initiated, to invoke the spirits and ask them for another bridge.
Everything in the bridges comes from nature. There are no nails, ropes or screws, just lianas and trunks, in a work of great skill.
Only the initiates know how and when a bridge is built. The spiritual chief, who is also in charge of making the sacrifices and offerings, assigns and supervises the work. During these days, no one who has not been initiated may approach the area, or enter the forest.
They work in a state of trance, possessed by the powerful spirits of the jungle. When the lianas are ready, the tom-tom sounds out until nightfall, to warn everyone. If a woman, or anyone not belonging to the secret society, came close and saw them at work, they would be killed instantly.
That night, the people remain in their houses. No one dares come out. The strange noises coming from the river terrify them, they know it is the powerful supernatural beings of the jungle, working for them. At dawn, a new bridge will be consecrated.
Among the Dan, education is a long process which only ends with death. By accepting responsibilities and taking on a role in life, they attain wisdom. The most important institution is the Gor, or Secret Society of the Leopard, which is responsible for ensuring justice, and respect for the masks. They have the power to sanction and punish those who do not obey the traditional rules and codes.
The Dan masks play a part in all areas of life. They serve as a bridge between the physical sphere of the village, and the spiritual realm of the forest. Perhaps the most important is this one, on stilts, called Glegben. It is a mask of justice, and greatly venerated.
Whenever it comes out, an initiate chosen by the women’s society, accompanies it, imitating its movements.
When there is some dispute between two families or a number of individuals in the community, the Glebgen mask imparts justice. Its decisions are always respected, without question.
Depending on how the mask is dressed, and its colours, everyone knows from the moment it appears, the mood of the spirit that day: red signifies power, white serenity, black feathers ferocity, and the raffia hats strength.
The spectators are deeply moved by these displays of balance and skill. For them, these movements are irrefutable evidence of the powerful magic of the other world.