Bembe Janus Helmet Mask Kalunga

  • Tribe: Bembe
  • Origin: D.R.Congo
  • Approx Age: Mid 20th Century
  • Materials: Wood
  • Dimensions cm: 36 tall x 32 widest point
  • Ref. Number: 0184

Bembe Janus Helmet Mask Kalunga, this barrel-shaped mask of the Bembe is said to embody forest spirits, and was generally hidden away and revealed only to select initiates. Its appearance in the village could range from entertainment to the imposition of fines and the settling of disputes especially if a member of the Alunga association was concerned. It is Janus-faced, or doubled, and the entire visage reduced to two enormous eyes with cylindrical pupils framed in star shapes.

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The arts of the Bembe are rare, but most examples of their masks and statues are striking and dramatic, so they are highly sought-after by serious collectors. The Bembe are an ancient, though poorly documented culture, who originally emerged from the north-western portions of the Congo. They are a proud and somewhat aggressive people, spreading slowly eastward to avoid colonialism. As they migrated, they conquered other groups and seized their lands, absorbing many artistic traditions along the way. Even today they still have skirmishes over land and hunting areas. Though they have some very distinctive forms, like the abstract, minimalist designs of this stunning old mask, they have also incorporated many stylistic elements from the Lega, Tabwa, and other peoples found near Lake Tanganyika. Like the Lega, they embrace Bwami Society rituals and laws for advancement within society. Masks such as this are used during the initiation ceremonies of the Kalunga and Butende. Similar masks exist among their neighbours, the Goma, and are used in the Alunga association. In both cultures such masks represent the spirit of dead and play the role of intermediaries between the living world and the invisible world. They are displayed in front of the initiates of the Kalunga or Butende to get their positive powers on them. These masks also possess evil forces. See “A Survey of Zairian Art,” by Cornet.

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Bembe Janus Helmet Mask Kalunga taken from Google images