Female Mask from the Night Dances

Inventory Number: 101075

Foto digitale


The bifwebe (kifwebe in the singular) masks are ceremonial objects of a similarly-named society that, even today, play a role of great importance in ceremonies of the east Luba and Songe populations. The bifwebe masks, worn with a long costume and a long “beard” of plant fibers, are featured in the most important ceremonies. The female mask, unlike that of the male kilume (bilume in the plural), lacks the crest placed atop the head and has a face covered with subtle carvings, painted in white. The masks, the colors, and the costumes have great symbolic significance for the east Luba and Songe peoples. Parts of the mask are meant to portray the characteristics of specific animals, such as the lion, the zebra, the crocodile, or the porcupine. The colors on the mask express various character traits or the spiritual dispositions. White symbolizes positive traits, such as purity, peace, the moon and light. Red, on the other hand, is associated with blood, fire, courage and strength, but also harm and dark magic. The female masks fundamentally reflect positive forces.  They appear most often in night dances, during the most important lunar celebrations or on the occasion of the ordination or death of a chief. The mask is made from carved wood, cut and then accentuated with white paint. Long strips of plant fiber are attached along the perimeter of the mask.  Currently the Ethnological Museum is under renovation, but it is expected that this piece will return on display in the near future.