african masksSongye Kifwebe
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A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden

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Songye Kifwebe Masks

Kifwebe masks 
Songye and Luba Art

A Kifwebe mask group in David Norden's African art shop in Antwerp.The Songye and Luba peoples live in the southeastern area of the Democratic Republic of Congo. 
Both groups trace their origins to a common mythic ancestor, Kongolo, and they are related linguistically. 
As with many African groups, the Songye and Luba rely on farming, supplementing their diet with hunting. 

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Since rivers were the sacred homes of spirits and their chiefs were buried in them the Songye did not fish except in times of famine. 

Kifwebe masks were made for the Bwadi ya Kifwebe association, a type of policing society that provided a means of controlling social behavior 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 southeastern regions bordering on Luba territory.

Male Kifwebe mask

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. 

Junior masks have smaller crests as an indication of their lesser degree of social power. 
The features of male masks -- strong, protruding eyes, nose, mouth and crest -- all extend from the plane of the face.
This extension of facial forms into space expresses male aggression. The use of vivid coloring is also more typical of male masks. 

The male Kifwebe represent socially approved agents bent on social intimidation of wrongdoers. 
They run through the village flailing their sticks.

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These masks are sold, but send us a private mail if you want such a mask, we'll tell you when something is available.

Kifwebe-mask1-profileKifwebe-mask1.jpg (206116 bytes) Kifwebe mask 1-insideDemocratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), Songye people Senior Male Kifwebe Mask
Wood and pigment
Kifwebe-mask2.jpg (287561 bytes)Kifwebe-mask2-side Kifwebe mask 2-insideDemocratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), Luba people
Junior Male Kifwebe Mask
Wood and pigment
Kifwebe-mask3-side.jpg (203017 bytes) Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), Songye people Senior Male Kifwebe Mask
Wood and pigment

Female Kifwebe masks

Female masks are more curvilinear and the facial features are usually contained in an oval form. 

Female Kifwebe masks, through their quiet dance performances, 
animate the benevolent spiritual forces. 

The Luba male Kifwebe has a series of fine lines carved into it that followed the planes of the mask. 
These lines are alternately painted white and black, which lend a psychedelic quality to the mask. 
The lines of the Songye male Kifwebe are further apart, creating broad bands that are painted white, red and black. 
The polychromatic stripes creating the alternating white (pemba), red (nkula) and black (busila) surfaces represent 
the earth and the underworld whence the spirits came. 
Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), Songye people
Female Kifwebe Mask
Wood and pigment

read also a french article about the last book from Neyt about l'Art Songye

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Songye Kifwebe 

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The Tribal Arts of Africa

The Tribal Arts of Africa
Author: Jean-Baptiste Bacquart

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