230827 - Old African Bakongo mask - Congo.
Old African mask from the Bakongo, Congo.
Hand carved from a single piece of wood, with color pigments, old bead and shells.
Height: 28 cm.
This Bakongo mask was collected between 1940 and 1950 and ended up in my private collection in 1995.
The Bakongo people (or Kongo people) have traditionally recognized their descent from their mother, and this lineage links them into kinship groups.The Kongo people (Kongo: Bisi Kongo, EsiKongo, singular: MwisiKongo; also Bakongo, singular: Mukongo) are a Bantu ethnic group primarily defined as the speakers of Kikongo (Kongo languages).
They have lived along the Atlantic coast of Central Africa, in a region that by the 15th century was a centralized and well-organized Kingdom of Kongo, but is now a part of three countries. Their highest concentrations are found south of Pointe-Noire in the Republic of the Congo, southwest of Pool Malebo and west of the Kwango River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, north of Luanda, Angola and southwest Gabon. They are the largest ethnic group in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and one of the major ethnic groups in the other two countries they are found in. In 1975, the Kongo population was reported as 4,040,000.
The Kongo people were among the earliest sub-Saharan Africans to welcome Portuguese traders in 1483 CE, and began converting to Catholicism in the late 15th century. They were among the first to protest slavery in letters to the King of Portugal in the 1510s and 1520s, then succumbed to the demands for slaves from the Portuguese through the 16th century. The Kongo people were a part of the major slave raiding, capture and export trade of African slaves to the European colonial interests in 17th and 18th centuries. The slave raids, colonial wars and the 19th-century Scramble for Africa split the Kongo people into Portuguese, Belgian and French parts. In the early 20th century, they became one of the most active ethnic groups in the efforts to decolonize Africa, helping liberate the three nations to self governance. They now occupy influential positions in the politics, administration and business operations in the three countries they are most found in.
The large Bakongo society features a diversity of occupations. Some are farmers who grow staples and cash crops. Among the staples are cassava, bananas, maize, taro and sweet potatoes. Other crops include peanuts (groundnuts) and beans. The cash crops were introduced by the colonial rulers, and these include coffee and cacao for the chocolate industry. Palm oil is another export commodity, while the traditional urena is a famine food. Some Kongo people fish and hunt, but most work in factories and trade in towns.
The Kongo people have traditionally recognized their descent from their mother (matrilineality), and this lineage links them into kinship groups. They are culturally organized as ones who cherish their independence, so much so that neighboring Kongo people's villages avoid being dependent on each other. There is a strong undercurrent of messianic tradition among the Bakongo, which has led to several politico-religious movements in the 20th century. This may be linked to the premises of dualistic cosmology in Bakongo tradition, where two worlds exist, one visible and lived, another invisible and full of powerful spirits. The belief that there is an interaction and reciprocal exchange between these, to Bakongo, means the world of spirits can possess the world of flesh.