Ritual Messengers

The Peoples of Central Africa

Mfondo face mask. Lwalu. West Kasai, Zaïre. Wood, pigments.
© Africa-Museum, Tervuren

  The Salampasu, Lwalu, Kete, Kambulu and Bindji

The Kasai people live, with the Luluwa, at the geographical juncture of the Tshokwe cultural area and the Luba world. It is notably from the former that they have borrowed the circumcision ritual of mukanda, integrating it into their own vast and comprehensive hierarchy that bears the same name and governs their entire political and ritual world. Social harmony, fertility, fecundity and a bountiful hunt are among the mukanda's central concerns. Initiates of the upper level are the guardians and wearers of the masks; as ritual objects the masks are central to the institution. In times of crisis or misfortune, the initiates invoke the power of the masks. Five of the exhibited masks are very likely mukanda-related ritual objects. The Lwalu mfondo mask, in contrast, is not linked with the initiation ritual and would be worn during secular dances.

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