Although wonderfully carved, these Bembe masks show no evidence of age or use and were probably made to be sold.
Photographs © Hamill Gallery
Traditional masks and headdresses of the eastern Bembe people of the DRC (formerly Zaire) are recognizable for their concave, cupped orbits around the bulging "coffee-bean" eyes, the masks take several hauntingly beautiful forms.
Elanda masks, from the Elanda male association, most often have a rounded top and a flat bottom, with a spiritual, mysterious, but human face. Some with rounded faces are similar, but those with pointed beak-like chins and small tufts or horns represent bird or animal spirits. Several have multiple sets of eyes, one or two functioned as ceremonial shields.
The second major type are the Kalunga helmet masks, more abstract in form, which represented bush spirits. They were kept in secrecy and brought out for public dances and ceremonies. To aid in their protective power, they had at least two faces and often four.
Neighbors of the Lega people, Bembe men and women share membership in their Bwami asociation, through which members rise through a lifetime of social and ethical deeds.
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