Songye Shield

  • Tribe: Songye
  • Origin: DRC
  • Approx Age: Early 20th Century
  • Materials: Wood
  • Dimensions cm: 55 x 23
  • Ref. Number: 1063
£1200.00 (RESERVED)

Captivating, intriguing Songye Shield. This shield, carved from single pieces of wood as all Songye Shield are, has a head carved in the centre which is a representation of a mask known as by the Songye as Kifwebe. The head/heads relate to the once warlike people from the DRC (Zaire). The art of this tribe projects an aggressive strength unlike any other in African art. Collected in 1940 from the village of Kongolo in the region of Katanga (Zaire). It was brought back to Belgium by a mercenary.  This shield has good signs of age and wear showing evidence of a tribal repair. Custom made stand included.

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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. They settled on the left bank of the Lualaba River, on a savanna and forest-covered plateau. Divided into many subgroups, the 150,000 Songye people are governed by a central chief assisted by innumerable secret societies.

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The Songye traditionally relied mostly on farming and hunting for subsistence. Because the rivers were associated with the spirits of deceased chiefs who were often buried in them, fishing was not practiced except in times of great need. The artistic wares of the Songye, including pottery made by women and weaving and metalworking done by men, were traded extensively with their neighbours.

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There are numerous mask styles associated with the Songye. Power objects and objects associated with divination are also prevalent in Western collections. In the past many Songye objects have been misattributed to the Luba and vice versa. The Songye are divided into about thirty-five subgroups. The Yakitenge (paramount chief) and his advisers are the central power in Songye territory. Many of the subgroups were actually quite large, were often spread over many miles, and were densely populated. The markets in these areas attracted numerous artisans and traders from throughout the region. At one time, Bukishi was a dominant educational society which helped to maintain social control through the use of kifibwe masks, but it no longer functions to this degree except in the southeastern regions bordering on Luba territory.

Information from: Art and Life in Africa.