230811 - 3 Old African passport masks from the Lega Bwami - Congo.


3 Old African passport masks from the Lega Bwami - Congo.

Hand carved from a single piece of colorful painted wood.

Height: 20 cm, 13 cm and 16 cm (without the beard)

The Lega people (or Warega) are a Bantu ethnic group of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 1998 their population was about 250,000.

By the 1970s Lega people were mostly living in the middle and upper Elila valley and the upper Ulindi River valley. These rivers both rise in the east of South Kivu and flow in a northwesterly direction through Maniema, joining the Lualaba downstream from Kindu. The upper Ulindi valley has a richly diverse fauna, including many monkey species, chimpanzees, leopards, buffaloes, elephants and antelopes. The valley is administratively divided into the Mwenga and Shabunda territories of South Kivu Province and the Pangi Territory of Maniema Province.

Bwami masks and figures are symbols of the owner's rank within the Bwami society. The objects represent moral or social values, and are used during initiation rites. The Bwami works of art are often associated with proverbs, and these proverbs in conjunction with dance, poetry and song give wisdom to members of the society. Beauty, knowledge and power are intertwined.

Some artwork can only be seen, handled or owned by the highest grades of the society. The objects are typically small and simple in form, and have a striking patina that derives from being handled or worn on the body. Iv. objects usually have russet or yellow patinas. The masks are fairly standardized, although the most important masks with special ritual use or symbolic meaning may have distinctive design. A typical mask will have a concave heart-shaped face. The forehead protrudes slightly, the nose is narrow, eyes are slits and the mouth is slightly open. Every time a mask is used it is rubbed with white clay, over time acquiring a white patina.

Under the Lega, Bwami society regulated all social and political life. Divided into 4 or 7 classes depending on the region, it required many decals. Moving up a ladder required a series of initiations, gifts, and lineage payments. This meant that one had acquired a certain wisdom and individual morality.

The grand ceremonies organized for accession to the highest rank required the construction of whole villages to house the applicant's clan and guest members from other clans who sometimes came from far away. Circumcision was an essential step to access the Bwami. It was accompanied by a teaching of proverbs and the manipulation of objects of moral and practical significance.The ceremony of joining Kindi was marked by the unveiling of the "basket of power" which contained the badges, spoons and figurines.

From page 570 of African Art" - Mazenod

These 3 Lega masks used in Bwami ceremonies were mostly masks worn and displayed rather than worn by an official or dancer. The different types of masks produced are innumerable, just like for the Iginga figurines.