Africa

Pwo mask from the Congo

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Q: I found this mask the other day at a local thrift shop. The wooden portion is about 12″ tall, 6″ wide, and 2″ deep. It has carved decorations on the face including a swastika on each side of the chin. There is a wicker armature attached to the mask that holds the hair in place. On the inside of is what looks like sheets of moss. There is a knot, about 2″ wide, like a bun, in the hair at the top of the head. The hair is a mass of pieces of crude rope. Some of the rope ends are cut and others have large knots tied in them. It has a strong odor, rather like incense, but I have no idea if that is from the materials themselves or if it picked up the odor somewhere. Would I be smelling the wood itself and if so, any idea what kind of wood it would be? The mask is fairly heavy. While I don’t expect it to be very valuable, I’m quite happy with it. It intrigues me and has really sparked my interest in masks. Any idea where it might have come from or what kind of a mask it is? Julie, 854

A: Nice description. The Pwo represent a pretty girl and is a very common mask worn by the Chokwe people of the southern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. I think it would look great on the wall as a piece of African decorative art. It was produced for sale to tourists and collectors, so it could easily have been carved somewhere else in Africa. It’s a lot of art for the money you paid. B

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