The ‘tam-tam drum of the Dan/Guere is in this exhibition because of the very well-carved passport masks on the handle. It was collected in the field by Paolo Morigi, a pioneer Italian connoisseur of African art, who discovered it in the Tapita village, Liberia.
The forehead of the leather-covered mask on the right is embellished with three cowry shells. These are not found in the waters of the Atlantic; they were imported from the Indian Ocean, on the other side of the African continent. Cowries are not only decorative, they are a symbol of fertility because their shape suggests a womb. For Africans, fertility means wealth, so they also symbolize personal prestige. In some parts of Africa cowries were used as currency until the colonial period.