TRIBAL AFRICAN ART

VILI (BAVILI, IVILI)

Gabon, Republic of the Congo, Cabinda, Democratic Republic of the Congo

 Stretching across the Atlantic coast of Gabon, Cabinda and the People’s Republic of the Congo, the matrilinear people Vili are famous for their artistic diversity. Vili artists carved with naturalistic features maternity figures, nail fetishes, figures of dogs and monkeys often carrying mirrors, nkissi (magical objects) or nails. The face masks of the Vili are characterized by a realistic design and a striking color scheme. The Vili give their masks a veritable expression of pathos by painting them black, white and red, and leaving the mouth slightly open. The two-faced ndungu mask in a massive attire of plumage, is worn by the medicine-man at the coronation of a prince, when invoking the gods to send rain, or pronouncing divine judgment. Other masks, by contrast, which have a symmetrical painted design in white and black, are employed in ritual by Basundi of the Bakhimba sect, which runs the bush school.

Each masquerade has a name that is revealed not by the wooden mask itself but by some other object that is part of the costume; the name refers to a proverb that conveys a moral message. The masks appear in groups to dance at important funerals and other occasions of potential disorder, serving as a kind of police force.

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