Africa

Pwoom Itok mask of the Kuba

Q: I am just trying to find out actual provenance and the type of mask this was used for, beyond era. I think it looks like a West African mask. Penny, 1643

A: It’s too late for you to get any provenance. But I can tell that it probably comes from the Kuba people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, West Africa. This particular style of masks is used in various ceremonies for young men.

The Kuba do not formally worship the creator god. At one time the Kuba had a religion based on ancestor worship, but this seems to have died out, although divination is still practiced in order to discover causes of evil. The Kuba, a confederation of nineteen ethnic groups dominating by the Bushong, have over twenty different mask types considered embodiments of spirit. In addition to the three royal masks, there are other dance masks, of which the main one is the pwoom itok presented here. Its primary characteristic is the shape of the eyes, whose centers are expressed as cones surrounded by small holes. B-

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