1000 x 556 CMS207 B - Art & Life in Africa - The University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art
The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Democratic Republic of the Congo; Pende artist


Wood, fiber, pigment 

H. 33 cm (13")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection of African Art, X1986.207

Small mbuya (wooden masks) were traditionally worn by young boys to celebrate their graduation from mukanda circumcision camps, where they received training in the history of the group and in their responsibilities as adult members of society. Increasingly, however, these masks appear simply to entertain the villagers, performing in plays, which ridicule the behavior of certain members of the village. Each mask has features, a song, and a dance which permit it to be identified with a particular character—the fumu or mfumu (village chief) the tundu (buffoon) the mbangu (epileptic, recognized by his half-black half-white face resulting from a fall into a fire), or, as perhaps in this example, the skillful dancer known as muyombo (de Sousbergh 1959:nos.7-56; Cornet 1971:100-104.1978:124-127).

Western Pende masks are more naturalistic than the stylized eastern Pende masks. The mbuya type can be recognized by the downcast eyes, upturned nose, and eyebrows which form a continuous line across the face. Mbuya are frequently colored red with a cosmetic wood powder called takula, and male masks, including this old, much-handled piece, bear a stylized beard.

Professor Christopher D. Roy, 1991

Featured in Education / Initiation