Africa

Lele mask from DRC

Q: I purchased this in DRC in 2010. Ben, 1533

A: Normally I need to get more information from people who want me to identify their Mystery Mask. No problem here. I know exactly what this one is. I found that AfricaDirect.com has an almost identical piece for sale. Here’s what they have to say. I haven’t changed their spelling. Like Ben’s mask, their Lele is a carefully made reproduction you can buy for a low price. An equally handsome authentic version of the same mask could not be afforded by 99% of us.

The Leele live in the confluence of the Sankuru and Kasai Rivers in territory which adjoins the land of the Kuba. They have a number of similarities with the Kuba, sharing the same language and history. Their sculpture and utilitarian objects such as cups, containers, pipes and musical instruments, show clear Kuba influence. One of the most popular creations of the Leele artists is the Itumbwa or rubbing oracle. Made in the form of a human or animal, it was used as a divination device. Like the work of Kuba artists, the Itumbwa is covered with geometric patterns. Masks made by the Leele differ somewhat from the Kuba masks. Made of wood, the Leele mask is adorned with red pigment, and the eyes and nose region is covered over with metal plates forming multiple lines of eyebrows. The flat face of the mask is heightened with the addition of a headdress of raffia textile, decorated with cowrie shells and beads. Keloid (linear scarification) is found on some Leele masks. Leele masks represent nature spirits and are worn at funerals of chiefs and elders, and during annual festivals which commemorate the founding of the nation. B+

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