A superb and aged Kuba “bwoon” mask
The Bushong trace their origins back to the incestuous relationship and wedlock between the great ancestor “woot” and his sister mweel “ngaady a
mwaash” “ bwoom” is the kings (woot) brother and symbolizes the previous rulers of the land and he opposed his brother by contesting his right to the
throne and to take his sister as a wife. Ref. Neyt 1981 p159 Cornet 1982 pp256-257.This superb “woot” mask represents one of the tree masks belonging
to the royal family and with appeared during rituals concerning the sacred king, initiation celebrations for boys and any other public ceremonies. The
naturalistic face is painted with geometric patterns and diagonal stripes on the cheeks, representing tears. The eyebrows, nose and mouth are covered
with copper and raffia cloth with are decorated with glass beads and cowrie shells.
Typical for these masks are:
carved from one piece of wood,
the high, pronounced, bulbous forehead with a triple band (trident) on it made of small beads, the blindfold in the form of a horizontal band of beads
covering the eyes, and dividing the face,
absence of holes where eyes are normally found, so that the masked dancer has to look through the holes in the mask's nose), the vertical rows of beads
on the nose, the geometric, decorative patterns, the hairdo and beard of woven raffia embroidered with coloured glass beads and cowry/kauri shells that
were very expensive in
the past, the back of the head covered with a colourful beaded pattern, the use of animal hair and skin/fur, embellishment with copper or brass sheets
on the forehead, mouth, the checkerboard carving of the wooden surface. All these elements together indicated the high rank of the mask. The costume
worn with the mask is a raffia tunic that prevents any
part of the dancer's body from being seen, because he is representing a spirit. This is one of the sensational types of masks.
Provenance: acquired from Kuba king N'boeupe Mabiintsh III and is part from the Royal treasury.
Kuba king N’boeupe Mabiintsh III
The Nyimi Mabiintsh III is fifty years old. He acquired the throne at the age of twenty.
As descendant of God the creator, the king is attributed with supernatural powers.
Due to his top position he is restricted by several constraints: He does not have the right to sit on the ground, and he cannot cross a cultivated field. Apart from his cook, no one has seen him eat. Moreover he never travels without him, and his personal cooking utensils.
It took me three weeks to photograph the Nyimi (King) of the Kuba in his royal apparel, the "bwantshy".
The outfit is made out of material stitched with beads and "cauris" (small shells used an money in Africa) and weighs 160lb. It takes more than two hours to dress the king and two days of spiritual preparation to be sufficiently purified in order to wear the outfit.
The weight and the heat of the bwantshy is such that it is impossible to wear it more than one hour. The preceding king had only worn it three times during his entire life.
Mozambique / Tanzania
An aged zoomorphic Makonde mask
The Makonde inhabiting the southeast of Tanzania and the northeast of Mozambique.
They are divided into matrilineal clans, each one comprising several villages.
Decisions are made by a chief supported by a council.
Clan members meet only for the ancestral cult and to celebration initiations.
The women play an important role in mythology as well as in religion and art.
The Makonde believe in a world of ancestral spirits and in malevolent spirits who make an appearance during the ceremonies that close initiation rites, these rites are deemed very important.
The dancers are adult male’s initiates, masked and completely covered in garments so as not to be recognizable.
The mask represents ancestral spirits, sometime animals.
Certain masks must inspire terror in the women, who may only view their apparition with their upper body bent over and their head facing down toward the ground.
The Makonde are almost the only ethnicity in East Africa to create fairly naturalistic sculptures and primarily maternity figures, which are intended to ensure the fertility of the fields and women.
Ref no: 129
A miniature stool
As in most African societies, chairs and stools symbolized status, power, and prestige.
This Dan stool features a round seat and is carved from one single block of wood showing the lower part of the human body, this small and unusual stool with its well-balanced proportion was able to carry small and large weights
Ref no: 135
A Kwele wood gorilla hand-mask
The dense rain forest of Gabon, which extends through Equatorial Guinea, is the home to more than forty ethnic groups.
They share all the same cult, that of the ancestors and ancestor relics.
From the colonial occupation to independences, very few Europeans traveled or stayed in the Kwele country, with is in the region north of the border of Gabon and the Republic of Congo and only few works reached Europe before the end of the 1930’s, a period during which ancestral rites were widely abandoned and talented artist stopped sculpting and only in the 1960’s the first field studies were conducted.
This mask belonged to the bwete initiation society and was used to improve village life, solve crises or ward of danger.
Only a few of these masks have eye-slits and where suitable to been worn as a face mask. In ceremonies the mask was merely shown to the onlookers, rather than being worn.
Masks with two long horns were sculpted from lightweight wood painted with white kaolin and are called “ekuk” generous forest spirit .
The small mouths refers to the dead ancestors and the Netherworld, where no one speaks.
This Kwele mask was collected by Captain John Procter from Durban, who traded in West Africa for many years.
In his early days he became interested in the sculpture from Gabon and the Congo, being very religious he had many contacts with missionaries during the 1930’s.
Most of his collection was in storage for many years and preserved in the same condition as it was collected at grassroots level
Provenance: Collected by Captain John Proctor
Stan & Barbara Andre (by descent through the family)
Errol George Weidman
Acquired from the above
Ref no: 139
An aged "Equestrian" bronze war bell
The history of the Soninke can be traced back to about the fourth century AD, before they founded what was later the so powerful Empire of Ghana (not to be confused with present-day Ghana).
Its time of prosperity lasted up until its destruction by the Almoravides in the 13th century. A flourishing trade with Morocco and a migration by the Sonikie groups to the coast preserved their culture for same time.
From their heritage of the ancient Ghana the Soninke maintained Islam as their religion.
They are one of the first West African ethnic groups to convert into Islam.
The “naxamala” are the dependent men.
The “tago” or blacksmiths occupy the first class among them, they make the arms and tools of work and they also make jewellery.
Soninke are respected for their knowledge in iron.
A clear historical sign of origin is represented by the equestrian figure, which is typical of the savannah but unknown in the rain forest.
Ref no: 57
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