Luba Kifwebe Mask
These pieces were also worn by their owner when travelling, both as an object of protection and a sign of belonging to the secret society.
Origin: Democratic Republic Congo
Approx Age: Late 19th early 20th Century
Materials: Wood, raffia, remains of kaolin
Dimensions cm: 10 x 9
Ref. Number: 1177
A stunning and very old Luba Kifwebe mask of small proportion, very beautiful used patina, these small masks were kept in houses of the Kifwebe secret society members whilst the masquerades were being performed with the large masks so the spirit of the large masks would take refuge in the small masks in the houses whilst they were being danced.
Provenance: Ex Frank Chantereau, Belgium. Authenticity certified by the Baron Henry Coomans de Brachéne, Le Pradel Gallery, Brussels. Certificate of authenticity is also accompanying the mask sale.
Translation from French which appears on the certificate.
Mask used by members of the secret society of Kifwebe, When the large masks were dancing, the spirit of the mask found shelter in the small masks. These pieces were also worn by their owner when travelling, both as an object of protection and a sign of belonging to the secret society.
Some say that the stripes of the Kifwebe masks, both Luba and Songye, are an evocation of zebras, harnessed guibs, Bango antelopes. A beautiful patina of ancient use.
Named after the men’s society and its mask, Kifwebe controlled the behaviour of women and children and collected and redistributed wealth. Kifwebe masks came in both male and female form, with the male forms typically being more exaggerated and larger in size. The most important identifying feature of a Kifwebe mask is the crest–male masks exhibit a crest that juts out above the head, whereas female masks always exhibit a flat crest. The Kifwebe mask on this plaque is likely female, though the shovel-shaped plaque it rests on is curious and complicates analysis. Like a mask, it could have been used in dance, but perhaps as a wand rather than a face covering.
What we know about the context of Kifwebe masquerades derives from multiple public and private sources with varying objectives, interests, and degrees of specialization. The earliest reports and collections from the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century missionaries, travellers, and ethnographers provide little insight into these masquerades. The spectacular round, striated Luba mask, now in the Seattle Art Museum, is among the early examples to have drawn much attention and to have been referred to as “Kifwele” in 1913 by the collector Father Pierre Colle (Fig. 1).3 But, apart from noting that this was a dance mask, which he relegated to the “fetish” domain, and that there were two types, a larger one representing a female spirit and a much smaller male one, we learn little of the wider context (Colle 1913: 440, 676–77, ill. 12).
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