Democratic Republic of Congo
Wood, patina of age.
9.25″ tall (23.5 cm)
Private Collection – California, USA.
Lega masks are all Bwami initiation objects and are divided up into five sub-types according to material, size, and form: lukwakongo, kayamba, idiom, muminia and lukungu. These masks also serve as marks of rank, identifying the owners to specific Bwami levels.
By western definition, “mask” refers to something that covers the face and transforms the wearer, so if by using this definition, then, the Lega have very few, if any, true masks. The Lega then mostly have sculptures of the human face, that are rarely worn over the face and never for purposes of transformation.
In Bwami ceremonies, masks would be attached to different parts of the bodies, hung on fences, piled in stacks, displayed, dragged on the ground and occasionally worn on the forehead with the raffia beard draping over the face of the wearer. Lega mask, though owned by men, are also handled and presented by women in very similar performances, though, the only mask a woman can use in a performance is one belonging to her high ranking husband.
A concept that unites many of these mask like sculptures is the portrayal and importance of ancestors. The names of several of the mask forms refer to death: ‘lukungu – skull”; “lukwakongo – death gathers in”; “Idimu – ancestor” Masks are part of the swami initiation objects placed on the grave before being passed onto new owners. When the next member of the owners lineage reaches that level in the Bwami society, he is given the mask. Thus Bwami members pass masks down through many generations, and the history of each piece is remembered.
The lukwakongo masks are fairly small. They portray in a stylized manner an idealized lega man. Once received, the lukwakongo mask is the most important sign of rank until the owner moves to Kindi and the wooden mask is then traded for a mask made out of a more important material (ie: Ivoire). The mans wife would keep his lukwakongo mask in in a “bwami basket” hidden in the house.
Source: Art of the Lega – ISBN: 0-930741-88-9