Four types of Lwalwa masks are used in the ceremonies of the Ngongo, a society that is responsible for the initiation and circumcision of young men. Both male masks, called nkaki, and female cifola masks are worn by men in dances which were intended to pacify the spirits of the human victims which were required for entrance into Ngongo (Van Geluwe in Fry 1978: 83). Each performer commissions the mask type that he prefers from the carver, who may often be the village chief and who organizes the mask dances (Timmermans 1967: 83).
This male nkaki mask is of the type called mvondo. It was held in place on the wearer's face by a cord that passed through the hole beneath the nose and was clamped between the teeth.
A very similar male mvondo type is illustrated in the catalogue of the Tishman collection (Vogel 1981: 230). The mouth of the Tishman piece is less rectangular and the eyes lack the frames that are present here. There is another, rather more rudimentary example in the J.-P. Barbier collection (Fagg 1980: 133). The present example is illustrated in Neyt's study of Congolese sculpture (1981: 206). It is remarkable for the care given to the geometric patterns in the coiffure, for the fine definition of the shape of the face, especially the nose, scars, and mouth, and for its very fine, smooth surface.
Professor Christopher D. Roy, 1991
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