Women and Political Power

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Democratic Republic of the Congo; Kuba peoples

Ngaady-A-Mwaash mask

Wood, beads, fiber

38.1 cm (15")

Detroit Institute of Arts, Founders Society Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Allan Shelden III Fund, funds from the Friends of African Art and the Pierians, Inc., 1992.215

Masquerades also express important female roles in political life. Among Bushoong peoples, a legend explains the origin of a feminine mask that belongs in the royal entourage. While serving as a regent during the minority of her son during the first dynasty, Queen Ngokady wished to bring attention to womens' cultural and political contributions, so she invented a mask that would represent women but that would be worn by men. Called ngaady a mwaash, the mask depicts the sister to the founding hero, Woot, who is dramatized by another mask called moshambwooy. The mask is decorated with numerous alternating dark and light triangles. Triangles on the forehead refer to "the king's house," and the raffia headdress is decorated with cowry shells. The performances reenact mythical episodes, including the ritual incest committed by moshambwooy and ngaady a mwaash, which was fundamental to the perpetuation of the dynasty.

Kuba peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo, royal mask dance. Photo by Angelo Turconi.