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Democratic Republic of the CongoHemba artist

Ibombo Ya Soho (mask)


H. 21.6 cm (8.5")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection of African Art, X1986.407

The Hemba are best known for their beautiful figures of chiefs (catalogue no. 124), which have been studied in detail by François Neyt. Hemba masks are less well known and we have only a few brief notes on their meaning. They may be called soko mutu (Neyt 1977: 503, alternatively suku muntu), meaning "brother of man" in Swahili, or ibombo ya soho "monkey face" in KiHemba, the Hemba language (Cornet 1978:310). Father Cornet indicates that they may not have been intended as face masks but as belt masks worn at the waist by a dancer. They are remarkable for their extreme stylization, with large, upward-slanting eyes, enormous, grinning mouth, and a nose that projects downward like a hook.

This example is illustrated in Neyt's study of the Hemba (1977: ill. 112-113).

Professor Christopher D. Roy, 1991