Lega mask


IHC 0917-2

Lega face mask with two horns, known as a ‘kayamba’ (antelope), DR of Congo.

A rare Lega ‘kayamba antelope mask’ from eastern Congo. This mask is carved from lightweight, hard wood, over the dark dyed surface it has a thin layer of a brighter color, on one side it is almost black with round white markings and on the other white with round black markings. The human-like face in the typical Lega style with two horns at the top of the mask are characteristic of these ‘kayamba’ masks. It displays the typical features of the Lega style with its almost heart-shaped face with the high curved eyebrows, the two protruding round eyes, the long nose that divides the face’s color scheme. The small, square distinctly open mouth, and the classic Lega beard and the two upright standing horns.

Among the Lega, in eastern Congo, the Bwami society presides over the tribe’s social and religious life (with six ranks for men and three ranks for women). This Bwami society has two fundamental types of masks (besides many smaller objects made of ivory and wood): on the one hand, small masks (‘Lukwakongo’) that are not worn on the face but used as a form of ‘identification’ instead. On the other, three larger types of face mask: ‘Idimu’, ‘Muminia’ and ‘Kayamba’ (with horns). These larger face masks may be worn only by men belonging to the two highest ranks of the Bwami society (‘Yananio’ and ‘Kindi’) during ritual ceremonies such as initiations, funerals etc.

The mask is in excellent condition, with good, shiny patina on the front and back witnessing years of usage. It has visible color scuffing due to age, particularly to exposed areas, to the forehead, nose and tips of both horns. The left horn has been broken (and now almost invisibly glued). There is an inventory number from a collection, in white almost erased letters.

Dimension: H: ca. 30 cm (with horns); W: 14 cm.

Age: First half of the 20th century. Before the 1930s

Provenance: The CO Hultén Private African Collection, Sweden. Acquired in the 1950s.

Literature:  L’art des Lega, Catalogue of the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris.
Daniel P. Biebuyck: Lega Culture; Art, Initiation, and Moral Philosophy Among a Central African, University of California, 1973.

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