Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola

A small tribe located both in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Cabinda  (province of Angola), the Woyo live on the Atlantic Ocean coast, north of the estuary of the Zaire River. As early as the late fifteenth century, their ancient kingdom was known to Europeans as that of the Ngoyo.

Living along the coast allows the Woyo to depend on the sea for much of their food. Men fish in the ocean, collect coconuts, and make palm wine. They also practice some hunting and do most of their own smithing. Women also fish, mostly in local ponds. They contribute significantly to the local economy, farming corn, manioc, bananas, beans, and pineapple. Surplus food is often traded to inland neighbors for profit under the supervision of local lineage heads from individual villages.

The Woyo possess a form of writing that has not yet been studied. A special application of this writing occurs in their “proverb covers,” the lids of their realistically carved wooden “storied pots,” which serve as an ingenious means of communication between husband and wife.  Woyo sculpture shows the influence of their Kongo neighbors, while remaining stylistically distinct. Numerous types of figural sculptures, which are used in religious ceremonies, are carved from wood. Their sculpture includes masks of the ndunga, a male society whose dances mark particular occasions including installations of tribal elders, funerals, celebrations, or the presence of great danger. The ndunga masks of the Woyo are characterized by their large size. These masks are worn with proportionately voluminous costumes of dried banana leaves that fully cover the dancers’ body. As a general rule, the masks are polychrome; however, some are painted primarily white. Believed to have symbolic meaning, the color is related to the concept of the masks’ power and is sometimes renewed. Their statues often adorned with magical objects called nkissi, have a triangular-shaped jaw and enlarged eyes.  

A625woyo.jpg (25094 bytes) Y9W9M984.jpg (60653 bytes)

Visit our Museum Store - African Art Gallery

Learn more about Woyo