Kuba Art and Rule

by Joseph Aurélien Cornet (1919 - 2004)
Formerly Institute for National Museums of Congo

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

This is a rare photograph of two royal masks, moshambwooy and bwoom, performing together before the king and a group of titleholders in the palace enclosure. The action of the mask kneeling before the king makes it possible to see the ornaments on the back: beneath the richly ornamented collar of the mask can be seen a large metal disk, a lantshaang, whose origin has apparently been forgotten; and the mikyeen, a large black ornament made up of nine bands decorated with beads, with a round shell at the top. The choreography of the dance must adhere to a series of customs. If the performer makes a misstep, the entire audience makes fun of him. A slave must gather up of the bits that fall from the mask costumes, because these are sacred entities; another carries a pole topped with a bundle of magical materials.