X2002.33.19 Mask

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Mbwesu (protective ancestor)
Chokwe peoples
Angola or Zambia
Late 19th-20th century
Wood, cloth, paint
H: 53.0 cm, W: 64.0 cm, D: 30.0 cm (H: 20.8 in, W: 25.2 in, D: 11.8 in)
Museum purchase with funds provided by Jay T. Last. X2002.33.19


This mask represents Mbwesu, a Chokwe character who is part royal male and part aggressive or protective ancestor. The disk protruding from the mask’s chin is interpreted as a chiefly beard. The elaborate crown serves as an antenna to collect powerful cosmic forces on the head of the character. The triangular patterns painted on the arched headdress are associated with those on the skin of the Gabon viper and also with the scales of the pangolin, a type of anteater found in Africa. The Chokwe attribute supernatural powers to both of these creatures and associate them with creation and ancestry.