Africa

Kefwebe mask for a museum

Q: I purchased this Kifwebe mask from the photographer Berenice Abbott in 1990. She said that she traded photographic work for it with an African art dealer in New York in 1932. I have been asked to loan it for an exhibition and it would be helpful if I could supply the museum with some information about its origin. I am not looking to sell the mask. Todd, 1728

A: Of course, your mask made by the famous Songye tribe in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The following description comes from Rand African Art. You can find many more scans and copy with the aid of Google.

This Kifwebe is a male. There are far less females used in the ceremonial dances. Like in almost all Africa dances the participants are always male. There are at least two kinds of masks– the senior and the junior.

The senior is usually larger in size, with a big crest which can be a separate formal entity, or a continuation of the forehead protruding above the forehead. The crest and the conical protrusion are supposed to contain the magical strength of the mask, hence the bigger the crest the more powerful the mask.

It is said that male masks (or their wearers) are involved in witchcraft, sorcery, spell-casting and dispersion of diseases and epidemics. The junior mask is smaller in size and will have a smaller crest but has the same contrasting coloration as the senior mask, mainly black, white, and dark red.

Kifwebe are made out of wood and come in many shapes and sizes, depending on the area where they were made or their function. The main function of worn masks is to control social order. Other masks serve to protect and identify a person or place with the Kifwebe association. A

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