TRIBAL AFRICAN ART
(BALUMBO, LOUMBOU, LUMBU)
This equatorial forest people settled in the south and southwest of Gabon. They form part of the intricate network of Gabons forty ethnicities, all of whose institutions are similar and whose daily life is regulated by the necessities arising from a physically hostile environment. Lacking centralized political organization, social life is concentrated in the village and clans. Ancestors and tutelary spirits are worshipped, and it is the initiation brotherhoods, such as the mukudji society, which play a therapeutic and judiciary role and rule social life.
Lumbo artists carved figures influenced by Punu and Kongo styles. Generally, among the Lumbo, figurative sculpture is used for protection from malevolent forces and promotion of fecundity. (Perrois, 1985). Their masks appear in funerary rituals, initiation ceremonies, and the magical rites whose function is to unmask sorcerers. The masks are called variously okuyi, mukuyi or mukudji depending on the district. They are commemorative portraits of male and female ancestors, the dancers often performing impressive acrobatics on stilts as they proceed through the village. Women and children prefer to hide from them, although there is apparently no prohibition against the masks being seen by them. White masks are famous throughout Gabon. Their style here is realistic: they are characterized by oval or triangular faces, hairdos composed of one or several loops, a dominant forehead, large eyes of coffee-bean shape with slightly hollowed sockets, and a realistic nose with pronounced nostrils and sides. The lips are outlined, the cheekbones protrude, the chin is pointed. White masks participate in celebrations; black ones operate as judges and help identify sorcerers.
Lumbo statuettes are recognizable by their braided hair that terminates in a horn shape. Their function is no longer known, but from their small size, one may gather that they served as protective charms. The facial features of the white masks are found here, too. From a slight bulging visible around the face, it appears that some statuettes may represent a person wearing a mask.
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