Wood, copper, cord, pigment, nails
H: 30.5 cm, W: 19.8 cm, D: 17.5 cm (H: 12.0 in, W: 7.7 in, D: 6.8 in)
Fowler Museum at UCLA. The Jerome L. Joss Collection. X88.965
The style of this copper covered wooden mask suggests that it was collected among the Kongo-Dinga, a people who call themselves Tukongo and are closely related to the Lwalwa. Both groups live in the Western Kasai Province of Zaire: the Kongo-Dinga occupy high grasslands on the western bank of the upper Kasai or Kasai-Luka River in Angola as well as Zaire; and the Lwalwa live on similar terrain directly opposite them on the eastern bank of the river. The Chokwe are their southern neighbors, while the Lunda Kingdom is to the southeast. For an unspecified period of time, the upper Kasai has attracted small, extremely independent groups like the Tukongo, who have resisted any type of centralized authority. Although the Tukongo slowly succumbed to domination by the more tightly organized Lunda and European powers between 1875 and 1925, individual communities maintained objects and rituals emphasizing their indigenous ownership of the land. Copper, a rare and bright metal mined throughout much of central Africa, was reserved among the Lunda for those who possessed political authority. It was rare, expensive and very difficult for small communities to obtain. Yet, the Kongo-Dinga fashioned extremely important masks known as Ngongo Munene from pure, beaten copper, symbolizing autocthonic powers that could never be transferred to outsiders. Copper masks of various types have also been used bu the Tukongo at the installations and funerals of chiefs and have been considered essential to counter droughts, epidemics and other calamities. The significance of copper-covered wooden masks like this example may be linked to this Tukongo concept of indigenous ownership and ancestral protection.
Source: Ross, Doran H. ed. (1994): “Visions of Africa”, Los Angeles, UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. page 135