Turtle shell Bwami mask from Africa

Q: I purchased this mask for $150.00 today at an antique shop in Ticonderoga, NY. It’s made from a turtle shell. The antique shop owner believes it’s an aboriginal Indian ceremonial mask but wasn’t sure. I’m new to collecting masks and hoping I didn’t over pay but the mask looks very old and legit. Matthew, 1773

A: I don’t think you over paid by much. It’s new and made for sale to the trade, however this beautiful, well made mask is from the Lega tribe in the middle of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is the largest country on the continent. Masks and figures are symbols of the Lega owner’s rank within the Bwami society. The objects represent moral or social values, and are used during initiation rites. The Bwami works of art are often associated with proverbs, and these proverbs in conjunction with dance, poetry and song give wisdom to members of the society. Beauty, knowledge and power are intertwined. The masks are fairly standardized, although the most important ones with special ritual use or symbolic meaning may have distinctive designs. The turtle shell is one of many different looking masks. B

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