Q: Bought this mask 8 years ago on the streets of Manhattan for $50. Guy that sold it said it came from the Pende people of the Congo. I’m wondering, even though I believe it’s made for tourists, is it really made in Congo and shipped from there? How authentic is it? How to check that? I was drawn to this mask because it felt more like it choose me than I choose it.
A: It represents a cursed man, someone who has been struck by sickness or has had deformities cast upon him by sorcerers. The mask comes from the Central Pende region in the Bandundu province, south of Zaïre. It shows that a curse can strike without warning. Onlookers see one of their own kind who has been rendered powerless, unable to shake off the curse that has struck him. The Pende use them to mark the end of circumcision rituals, but today they play a more festive role.
Your Mbangu is an accurate reproduction made for both tourists and collectors. The carver could be a Pende from the Democratic Republic of Congo. It could also come from Cameroon or some other country where they manufacture tribal masks for sale. Though collectible, it is not of high value. B-