Sunday, 26 April 2015

Songy Kifwebe Mask | Democratic Republic of Congo

Songye Kifwebe Mask | Pollitt Collection

Tribe:               Songye
Origin:             D.R.Congo
Materials:       Wood, Pigment 
Size:                 45cm high x 22cm wide
Age:                 Mid - Later20th Century
Est:                  £200,000 to 350,000

Part of the POLLITT COLLECTION of African Art

Songye Kifwebe Male mask  from Democratic Republic of Congo formally Zaire.  A stunning styled example of a mid 20th Century Songye Kifwebe male mask with a large crest and protruding eyes and mouth. Kifwebe masks were made for the Bwadi Bwa Kifwebe association, a type of policing society that provided a means of controlling social behaviour and neutralizing disruptive elements within the group. These masks appeared at the installation and death of a chief, and at the initiation rites of young men as well as a whole range of occasions that included punishments, warfare and public works. There is great variety and symbolism within the various Kifwebe masks. More than thirty different mask names have been recorded. Several have animal names while other masks have names of illnesses like leprosy or names denoting natural phenomena. For the most part Kifwebe masks no longer function to maintain social control among the Songye except in the South Eastern regions bordering on Luba territory.

A male Kifwebe mask can be identified by its large comb or crest. The size and height of the crest, in comparison to other masks danced in the same performance, indicates seniority or higher rank and the relative spiritual power of the dancer.

During the 16th century, the Songye migrated from the Shaba area, which is now the southern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their history is closely linked to the Luba’s, to whom the Songye are related through common ancestors. Having waged war against one another for a long time, the Songye and Luba later formed an alliance to fight the Arabs. Songye origins are shared with the Luba through a common mythical Songye ancestor known as Kongolo, who can be traced through lineages to the 16th century. The linguistic traditions of these neighbouring peoples are intertwined as well. It is believed that the founders of the Songye emerged from the lake region in Shaba province to the south in the heart of the Luba homeland. Highly stylized masks called the Kifwebe are famous Songye tribal art. These masks have grooved pattern on the face and is a common characteristic. The white paint in the grooves symbolizes peace, light and the purity of the soul. Some mask adorned with brown, tan and blue symbolizes nature as positive force. The facial elements are associated with animals. Some mask appears to have the Black white stripes of a zebra. The nose in most instances seems to appear triangular and the mouth is always protruding and geometrically shaped – rectangular, square, half circle. The Songye tribe uses this type of masks during ceremonies, and at the funeral processions of important leaders. According to the Songye tribe, when certain individuals of the Kifwebe society wear the mask along with the costume and raffia beard they are believed to gain magical powers that can manipulate evil spirits. Despite its age and patina I believe this mask to be made for the collectors market.

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