Ritual Messengers

The Peoples of Central Africa

| The Tshokwe | Tshokwe Masks |

Cisakulo comb with 12 teeth. Lwena or Tshokwe. Angola. Wood.
© Africa-Museum, Tervuren

  The Tshokwe

The Tshokwe are a matrilinear Bantu people who originally inhabited Serra de Muzamba (north Angola), where they formed powerful chiefdoms. Around 1860, probably as a result of socio-economic problems, the Tshokwe started to move to the north and the north-east, migrating into Angola and Zaïre, as far as Kwilu, Kasai and Shaba.

During this period, the ancient court art became more robust and static, losing some of its richness. Sculptors continued to produce masks and refined objects — chairs (often fashioned after European models), combs, tobacco boxes, sceptres, pipes and walking-sticks produced at the time are lifelike and show a keen eye for detail, although mythical ancestors were no longer depicted in Tshokwe art. These distinctions allow us to distinguish between Tshokwe art originating in Angola and that produced after the Tshokwe migrated northwards.

However, not all sculpture constituted court art or items of prestige: objects were produced for use in rituals, invoking protective or destructive spirits who could ensure success in hunting, protect against evil or sickness, or restore a woman's fertility.

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