Cow mask (vaca bruto)

20th century, 1950–2000
Artist Unidentified

Object Place: Bissagos Islands, Guinea Bissau


Overall: 26 x 46.5 x 35 cm (10 1/4 x 18 5/16 x 13 3/4 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Wood, paint, horn, rope, plant fiber, nails

Not On View


Africa and Oceania, Contemporary Art



Until the 1960s, when bovine helmet masks like this caught collectors’ attention, objects of the Bidjogo peoples rarely appeared in the art market. Called vaca bruto (“wild cattle”), these masks are associated with the cabaro age group (men ranging from seventeen to twenty-seven), in a male initiation association. During vigorous performances the masker wears the helmet attached to wooden neck and shoulder pieces (missing here) and moves to the accompaniment of drums like an untamed animal.


1973, sold by the Galerie Majestic, Paris, to Geneviève McMillan (b. 1922 - d. 2008), Cambridge, MA; 2008, to the Geneviève McMillan and Reba Stewart Foundation, Cambridge; 2009, gift of the Geneviève McMillan and Reba Stewart Foundation to the MFA. (Accession Date: June 17, 2009)

Credit Line

Gift of Geneviève McMillan in memory of Reba Stewart