Africa

Bemba helmet mask

Q: I recently acquired a mask from Bukavu, DRC. I’m told it’s a Bemba mask from the Uvira region. I was wondering if I could send you a photo to take a look to see if you might have more information on its quality and use. I’ve been told its quite old. It’s a helmeted mask with a carved face on four sides. It comes to a single wooden cylinder at the top and along the base it looks like there may be holes for a longer dress of grass or material. Matt, 1617

A: You a correct on culture and location. Here is some info I found on the Bemba people. The name means “the people of the lake.” The 60,000 Bemba settled mostly in northeast of Zambia, but also in the southeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They share a number of traits with their neighbors on the shores of Lake Tanganyika: the Lega, the Buyu, and the Binji. The territory surrounding them is covered with forests, plateaus, and wooden savannas traversed by rivers. The Bemba have the reputation of being a proud, hard people who learned the art of the hunt and the harvesting of honey. They practice slash-and-burn agriculture; a social, ritual, and economic value is connected to the hunt. Villages, consisting of about thirty huts were abandoned every three to four years once the soil became exhausted.

I can’t tell you anything about its authenticity or age. The problem is that 72-dpi scans often don’t reveal enough detail. Yours is one of those, and I would need the actual mask in my hands here in Lancaster, PA, to give it an A, B, C or D.

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