By Allen F. Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles (formerly University of Iowa)

Democratic Republic of the Congo; Luluwa peoples



H. 24.2 cm (9.5")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.510a-c

A rare Luluwa initiation mask from the Democratic Republic of the Congo places great emphasis on the eyes, and while the rest of the face is absorbed by graphic motifs, the large orbits are black. This primary color for Luluwa and related peoples of the red-white-black triad symbolizes secret, transformative knowledge. Black is also “cool” and refined, reserved and self-confident. Through initiation, boys will acquire a vision endowed with these crucial qualities associated with mature sophistication and esoteric powers. Anthropologist Clémentine Faïk-Nzuji (1992) explains that the surrounding patterns facilitate and communicate about contact with divinity. These same lines echo facial scarification that, at least in the old days, perfected and protected a person in later life.