Kuba Mukenga Helmet Mask Double Elephant from Congo African Art
Kuba Mukenga Moshambwooy Helmet Mask Elephant from Democratic Republic Of Congo
With helmet-like form, this elaborate headdress is known as the Mukenga mask of the Kuba people. Mukenga are thought to have originated east of the Bushongo, rulers of the Kuba kingdom, among the Ngongo & Ngeende peoples.
The characteristic of these masks is the elephantine projection from the top of the head. The Mukenga or Mukyeem is considered a variant of the Mwaashambooy royal mask representing Woot, the mythical founder and king from whom all Kuba royal lines are descended.
Elephantine masquerade masks such as this, appear at the burial rituals of aristocratic clans & high-ranking elders, as well as initiation ceremonies, both of which are concerned with a change in status, an acceptance, and transfer of traditional knowledge & wisdom.
Of large proportions, this stunning piece is a product of labor-intensive craftsmanship, lavishly adorned with valuable cowrie shells, once a form of currency, and glass beads appropriate to the period, arranged in exquisite geometric patterns for which the Kuba artist is known. These elements are symbols of title, wealth & elite status.
The conical elephant trunk, beaded and also adorned in cowries evokes power, the supreme symbol of leadership. Raffia adorns the distal end of the trunk, whereas depending on use, some pieces may have tufts of parrot feathers. A large collar of raffia surrounds the base of this mask, nearly hiding the fine, large cuff of beadwork. Stylized human ears, carved of wood are also, nearly hidden by the extensive fiber collar.
Facial features include an elongated nose decorated in glass beads and beaded eyes, all presented over a raffia cloth base.
This early to mid-century Mukenga mask is absolutely lovely, with evidence of actual use.
It is a tribute to the artistry that can be found in Central Africa.
It is a witness to a people and to their culture.
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