ons: 12.75 inches H. ; 6.5 inches
Additional Information: Unusual face mask with a heart shaped face painted in white and the rest of the face covered with braided reeds. This mask is tentatively attributed to the Lega. But it could also come from their neighbors. This mask shows much handling and good age. It would be a good addition to a collection.
The Lega people live near the northern end of Lake Tanganyika on the banks of the Lualaba River in the DR Congo. They 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 advance up through the various ranks of Bwami, a long process which involves challenges as well as proof of knowledge.
The ultimate goal for the initiate is to reach the highest level, and become a "Kindi," a position of power, prestige and influence with the village. It is during the various Bwami ceremonies that the charming and popular heart-faced masks are used. The masks are transported in baskets from village to village by high-ranking elders. Lega masks are usually carved in a distinctive style, with a heart-shaped, concave face, slightly protruding forehead, narrow nose, slit eyes and a slightly open mouth, often with a rather surprised and charming expression. The surfaces of the masks are rubbed with kaolin/pembe each time they are used, and thus acquire their striking white appearance. Though fairly common, Lega masks continue to be incredibly popular with collectors.
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. Masks were used for initiation to one of the first two levels of the Bwami society. The white sections were repainted with Pembe each time they were danced. The mask was worn by the initiate and also displayed on a fence. Lega masks like this were used as badges or insignia of identity by the dignitaries of the Bwami Society.
Biebuyck, D. "Lega Culture: Art, Initiation, and Moral Philosophy among a Central African People." 1973
Cameron Elizabeth, Art of the Lega, UCLA, 2001
I have examined this piece and agree with the description.
Niangi Batulukisi, PhD.