Kuba Art and Rule

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

A dance of the principal royal mask, Kuba peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photograph by Angelo Turconi.

Of the two royal masks moshambwooy and bwoom, the former is the most important; its meaning is tied to the legend of the creation of the Bushoong people, because it is traced to the founder Woot. Each of the masks has its own personal name. Only the king may wear such masks in performance, unless he has specifically delegated the honor to someone else. These masks have their own retinues of chiefs and certain titleholders. The royal mask appears rarely: here it is seen at the performance area of the capital. The dance of the mask is accompanied by singing and the rhythm of drums. The movements are quiet and slow, with very complex dance steps, which interpret the texts of the songs. The spectators take pleasure in identifying the relationship between the steps of the dance and the text of the songs. The performer does not allow any part of his body to show, because he is supposed to have become a spirit. He even wears gloves and shoes that cover every inch of his skin.