Africa Direct
Africa Direct


Location: SW Tip of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Population: Unknown

Arts: The Woyo live in the area dominated for centuries by the powerful Kongo Kingdom. Despite this, they have managed to maintain their identity, as well as produce a small but distinctive body of art. Like their Kongo neighbors, there are some large magical figures produced, though these are either rare or misidentified. The most well-known of Woyo arts are the beautiful initiation masks, with their colorfully-painted faces diagonal lines extending downward from expressive eyes. Compared to other masks from the Congo they are rare, but the best of them are debatably the most beautiful of all African masks. The sublime combination of color and solemnity leaves a lasting impression on the viewer. In addition to the famous masks, the Woyo produce decorative pot lids, an art-form unique to the Woyo. Though poorly understood, they are exchanged between husband and wife, as a means of secret communication, a vow of faithfulness perhaps. There are utilitarian objects produced, but these are difficult to distinguish from those of their neighbors the Kongo and Yombe.

History: In the 15th century, Queen Nwe led her people, who were to become the Woyo, away from the Congo cataracts, and the confusing and stressful mix of BaKongo groups, into the area in which they currently live. This first "dynasty" was later conquered by the neighboring king of the KiKongo, only to be reborn under the king's sister as the second dynasty, which re-established the Woyo as a distinct people. The Woyo tried to expand their territory northward in the 17th century, only to be pushed back by the Solongo. In the 18th century, the slave trade, disease, and drought gradually diminished their power, leading to an inevitable dissolution of the "monarchy," in favor of a more egalitarian society.


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