Lwalwa (Balualua, Balwalwa, Lwalu), Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola
Ceremonial bangongo mask. The land where 20,000 Lwalwa live is rich and fertile, lending itself well to the agricultural economy. Their social and political organization is rudimentary. Each Lwalwa village is headed by a male or female chief, whose power is held in check by a powerful society, the bangongo. Lwalwa art, known mostly by its masks, is the most original in a group of tribes inhabiting the region. Sculpting is recognized as a prestigious profession and is usually passed on from father to son. Sculptors are a privileged caste of the communitya successful sculptor can accumulate wealth, become a chief and has the right to organize dances. Women and children are not allowed to view ceremonies in which the masks are used. The masks had an important function in the bangongo dance of the hunting ritual. When hunters returned empty-handed, the ancestors would be appeased by organizing a dance. The masks were also used in a secret ritual of the bangongo society, in charge of initiation and circumcision of young men. The Lwalwa are renowned dancers. The choreography of masked dances was highly complex and had to appease the spirits of the ancestors and compel them to intervene. Masks still play a role today in secular festivities.
Size: H. 15, W. 8, D. 5½