Skip to Main Content »

You're currently on:

Search Site
 
Click on image above to zoom.

Tabwa Helmet Mask Musangwe Cowrie Eyes Congo African Art

Regular Price: $350.00

Special Price: $290.00

Product #: 114205
US Shipping: $24.98
Add Items to Cart


Title Tabwa Helmet Mask Musangwe Cowrie Eyes Congo African Art
Type of Object Carving, Statue, Sculpture
Country of Origin Democratic Republic of Congo
People Tabwa
Materials Wood, pigment, cowrie shells
Approximate Age Mid 20th century
Dimensions Height: 6 Inches
Width: 11 Inches
Depth: 10 Inches
Overall Condition Fair. Most of our pieces have spent decades on at least two continents, and have been treasured by several owners.   Small splits, scrapes and cracks are a normal part of their patina attesting to their age and extensive use.  We examine each piece carefully when we receive it and report any damage we find in our listings.  Please look carefully at the pictures which may also reveal condition and damage.
Damage/Repair Chips, cracks


Additional Information: Tabwa masks are rare and little is known concerning their use and functions. The literature points out three types of masks among the Tabwa. The first category is represented by the anthropomorphic wooden helmet mask like this with  headdress nicely decorated with diamond and other patterns, scarification patterns around hairstyle line, in temples, and in cheeks . This category  represents the female ancestor (Musangwe), symbolizing fertility. The name Musangwe is related to sexual promiscuity. Our mask falls into this category. During the masquerade, Musangwe is always accompanied by the  male mask (Kiyunde) which constitutes the second category. This second type is a zoomorphic mask representing a buffalo. There is no precise information to confirm if these two masks perform the primordial or mythical couple. The third type of masks was discovered more recently. Masks of this category are made of glass beads stitched onto raffia cloth. The functions of these masks are not known for sure. But they all are related to either the Mbudye or the Butwa society. They are probably involved in ritual dances linked to fertility, the birth of twins and ancestor cult in the Butwa secret society.


The Tabwa are a tiny tribe in the Upper River Region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire. Their carvings are ancestor figures, and they usually stand on a circular base with slightly bent knees and hands resting on their abdomen. Sometimes the hairstyle is a George Washington queue. Standing Female Figure. Tabwa. Southeast Democratic Republic of Congo and Northeast Zambia. The Tabwa number more than 200, 000 . Tabwa art has only recently come to be identified as a separate style often confused with the sculpture of their neighbors or others who took Tabwa identity. Chiefs were not powerful and local lineage heads exercised much authority. It was the lineage heads who kept small figures representing honored ancestors known as Mipasi on small shrines that they controlled. Tabwa figural sculptures represent ancestors who were to assist in daily activities and during the hunt. Tabwa art is both a symbol and an aesthetic statement as the figures are often elaborately scarified in a fashion known among them until the middle of the twentieth century. The distinctive facial scarification consisting of a number of lines along the sides of the face and along the forehead and abdomen were the means whereby Tabwa identified themselves to localities and social status. They are also a high form of body art or ornamentation. Elaborate and attractive patterns and designs were worked into the skin according to the Tabwa concept of kulemba that reflect aesthetics, social membership and the abstract idea of order upon the chaos of nature. It demonstrates that a person becomes a complete adult when they are properly inscribed with the appropriate scars. These patterns and designs are collectively known as vindala and will represent one?s advancement through life and within Tabwa society. Distinctive hairstyles among Tabwa men reflect status or membership in a hunters cult known as buyange, that required great efforts to braid, tie and decorate.


For similar piece see Frank Herrreman & Costantijn Petridis (ed.), 1993 FACE OF THE SPIRITS MASKS FROM THE ZAIRE BASIN, fig. 80


Recommended Reading:


Cornet, J. A SURVEY OF ZAIRIAN ART-THE BRONSON COLLECTION, North Carolina Museum of Art, 1978


Roberts Allen F, and Maurer Evan M. (eds.), TABWA THE RISING OF A NEW MOON: A CENTURY OF TABWA ART, University of Michigan Museum of Art, 1985


Frank Herrreman & Costantijn Petridis (ed.), 1993 FACE OF THE SPIRITS MASKS FROM THE ZAIRE BASIN