Lega Face Mask Lukwakongo, DR Congo/Zaire, African
Additional Information: This Lega mask has lost a bit of its original white pigment on the face.
Lega masks are usually carved in a distinctive style, with a heart-shaped concave face with a slightly protruding forehead, a narrow nose, slit eyes and a slightly open mouth. The faces of the masks are rubbed with white clay (pembe) each time that they are used and thereby acquire the white pagination that color the face . Lega masks, known as Lukwakongo, are relatively standardized in form however masks of particular importance with ritual and symbolic distinction will have unique forms.
The social and political life of the Lega (also known as the Warega) is regulated by the Bwami society, to which both men and women belong. There are seven levels for men, four levels for women. The present mask was used for initiation to one of the first two levels of the Bwami society. Such masks were repainted with Pembe each time they were danced. They were worn by the initiate and also displayed on a fence.
The Lega people live nearby the northern end of Lake Tanganyika on the banks of the Lualaba River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and are also known as the Warega. Living in small village groups they have no centralized authority but govern themselves through a communal association known as Bwami. This association is composed of male and female members who strive to achieve advancement in the various ranks of Bwami in which advancement is dependent upon the initiates passing through a number of ranks to achieve status and prestige and recognition as moral individuals. For the Lega the ultimate goal is to reach the uppermost level of Bwami where one would be recognized as a Kindi, one who exercises moral suasion and is a leader in society. The complex system of instruction, initiation and advancement in Bwami uses masks and figures to document the various levels of Bwami and to serve as badges validating the initiate’s knowledge of the secrets of Bwami and of their rank. Initiates earn the privilege to wear and display masks that might be worn on their arms or faces or simply exposed on racks or on the ground to other Bwami society members indicating their rank.
For similar examples, and more information, see ART OF AFRICA by Kerchache et al. 'Lega Culture, Art, Initiation, and Moral Philosophy among a Central African People'. 1973, by Biebuyck, D.; Art of the Lega, by Cameron, E.