Pende Tundu Mask

This mask is Tundu and he acts as the clown or idiot in masquerades, Tundu is grotesque in physical appearance and even more so in his behaviour. 

Pende Mbanga mask

Tribe: Pende

Origin: Democratic Republic of Congo

Approx Age: early 1950’s

Materials: Wood, raffia

Dimensions cm: 25 x 15

Ref. Number: 1798


A nice Pende Tundu mask from around the early 1950s. The Pende Tundu mask is the “clown” mask, large round googly protruding eyes, twisted nostrils and a protruding twisted mouth, remains of the raffia hood that would have sat this mask on the head of the dancer and markings in an ochre colour.

Provenance: Ex-old UK collection.


Masks are the dominant form of Pende sculptural work and are used in masquerades where artists, musicians and dancers perform their accomplished arts. The look and character of a mask are conceptualized by male dancers who will perform it. The dancer creates the mask only after he has choreographed a dance for it, written a song for it, and selected the necessary dance costume and props to accompany it. When these things have been accomplished the dancer collaborates with a drummer to come up with the lead rhythm for the mask’s dance. Finally, if the mask is new in concept or character a master sculptor will be consulted to expertly reflect the nature of the being. This mask is Tundu and he acts as the clown or idiot in masquerades. Tundu is grotesque in physical appearance and even more so in his behaviour. His role in the masquerade is to show how disgusting it looks when one does not follow social standards. The earliest Tundu masks were simply woven raffia placed over the dancers head. It is said that the Belgians suggested by carving a wooden Tundu mask that the Pende would create a product more desirable to European collectors. This was the case and as it turns out the Pende also preferred the wooden masks and permanently adopted this change.

To say these physical appearances are unattractive to the Pende is an understatement – Tundu is physically repulsive. In Tundu’s dance, his gestures are overtly sexual and shocking. He appears in most masquerades and dances the longest, interacting with both the crowd and the other dancers. The dancer carries out actions that never would be tolerated in normal circumstances. During masquerade his role functions to socialize the community and is absolutely necessary.

Reference: Bowers Museum.

Pende T

Pende Masquerade at Lufushi.

Photograph by Leon de Sousbeghe 1957

EEPA 1999-100042
Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives
National Museum of African Art
Smithsonian Institution

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