In combining the attributes of several animals, this mask embodies the supernatural, dangerous qualities of the Kifwebe society. This society uses magic and fear to reinforce the political will of rulers. Striations on the mask's face resemble the stripes of zebras, which the Songye consider dangerous because they are foreign to the region. Other animals capable of inflicting fatal wounds are also represented to command fear in spectators. The chin denotes the jaw of a crocodile, while hairs signifying porcupine needles originally protruded form the mask's nose. A raffia beard symbolizing a lion's mane would also have been attached to the mask's rim.

Kifwebe literally means "chases death away". Masks are danced in pairs at the death of a chief or when someone assumes an important political title, thus marking occasions of social transition and transformation. Kifwebe masks originated with the neighboring Songye in southeastern Congo, and Luba Kifwebe masks are strongly influenced by them. Associations of Luba and Hemba dancers are credited with the spread of this popular mask type. The dancer's costume is made of fibrous material and animal skins.


  • Title: Kifwebe Society Mask
  • Location: Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Physical Dimensions: 26 x 10 x 8 1/4 in. (66 x 25.4 x 21 cm)
  • Provenance: Ex coll. Jay C. Leff, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Purchased by MCCM from Sotheby's New York, sale N07942, November 14, 2003, lot 94.
  • Subject Keywords: effigy, mask, sculpture
  • Rights: © Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. Photo by Bruce M. White
  • External Link: https://collections.carlos.emory.edu/objects/11555/
  • Medium: Wood, pigment
  • Art Movement: Songye
  • Dates: 20th Century
  • Classification: African Art

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