230617 - Old African mask from the Chokwe - Angola.
Old African female mask from the Chokwe, Angola / Congo,
Hand carved from a single piece of wood and classic relief like scar tattoos.
Height: 39 cm.
The Chokwe were once one of the twelve clans of the great Lunda Empire of 17th- and 18th-century Angola. They were initially employed by Lunda nobles, eventually became independent when they refused to continue paying tribute to the Lunda emperor. Their successful trading and abundant resources caused them to be one of the wealthiest groups in Angola. By 1900, the Chokwe had dismantled the Lunda kingdom (also called the Mwata Yanvo) altogether, using guns they had received in trade from the Ovimbundu. Chokwe language and influence then began to dominate northeastern Angola and spread among the Lunda peoples. As the wars and conflicts grew during the colonial era of the 19th and 20th centuries, both from Europeans from their west and the Swahili-Arabs from their east, they militarily responded and expanded further into northern Angola, Congo and into western Zambia.
The Portuguese had virtually no contact with the Chokwe until the 1830s when the Chokwe traded wax, rubber. The Portuguese brought an end to the dominance of the Chokwe people in the region, but the Chokwe people fought back.
As a prince, Mwene Mbandu Kapova I of Mbunda played a significant role in the battle between the Chokwe and the Mbunda.
They are regionally famous for their exceptional crafts work, particularly with baskets, pottery, mask carving, statues, stools and other handicrafts. The art work include utilitarian objects, but often integrates Chokwe mythologies, oral history and spiritual beliefs. For example, the culture hero Chibinda Ilunga who married a Lunda woman and took over power is an often sculpted figure. The Cikungu art personifies the collective power of Chokwe's ancestors, while Mwana po figurines depict the guardians of fertility and procreation. The Ngombo figurines have been traditionally a part of divining spirits who are shaken to tell causes of illness, misfortune, not having babies and other problems faced by a family or a village.
Both chiefs and village groups are found in the Chokwe culture. Villages consist of company compounds with square huts or circular grass-houses with a central space that serves as the meeting place for the villagers.
The Chokwe are traditionally a matrilineal society, but where the woman moves to live with her husband's family after wedding. Polygyny has been a historic practice usually limited to the chief or a wealthy family.
The traditional religious beliefs of the Chokwe center around ancestor spirits worship. In groups where chiefs exist, they are considered the representative of god Kalunga or Nzambi, therefore revered and called Mwanangana or "overseer of the land." There is sometimes perceived to be a spiritual connection between works of arts such as handicrafts and carved objects and ancestors, as well as god Kalunga or Nzambi. With the colonial era, Chowke converted to Christianity en masse yet the original beliefs were retained to produce a syncretism of beliefs and practices. They have, for example, continued their spirit-rituals from pre-Christian era, as well maintained their elaborate rites-of-passage ceremonies particularly to mark the entry into adulthood by men and women.