Ritual Messengers

The Peoples of Central Africa

| The Songye | Songye Masks |

Ritual object. Songye. East Kasai/Shaba, Zaïre. Wood, metal, cowries.
© Africa-Museum, Tervuren

  The Songye

The Songye, who inhabit the territory between East Kasai, Shaba and the adjacent region of Kivu, are closely related to the Luba, both linguistically and culturally. The origins of both groups' kingdoms can be traced to the lake region in the Shaba area. The Kalebwe most likely formed the socio-political nucleus of the Songye.

Songye art consists primarily of robust, sturdy statues, and masks characterized by geometric markings and grooved surfaces. Songye statues are not seen as symbols of power, but rather as something that can protect or heal, or can be used for therapeutic reasons. They are objects imbued with power or magical figurines known as mankishi (singular: nkishi).

A statue's value lies not in its appearance but in the magic ingredients (bishima) that are hidden in its stomach or horns. These ingredients, prepared by the nganga or ritual specialist using animal, vegetable or mineral sources, fall into two categories: aggressive ones that fight against the sources of evil, and ingredients that have a beneficial effect on the patient. The sculptor is responsible only for producing the frame of the statue; it must be activated by the nganga.

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