Female figure. Tabwa. East Shaba, Zaïre. Wood, fibre,
bushbuck horn, resin, pigments.
The history of the Tabwa people, like their mythology, is closely linked to that of the Luba, their western neighbours.
Belgian Lieutenant Emile Storms led the fourth expedition of the International African Association, which brought back a rich collection of artifacts and animal specimens to the Tervuren Museum. Storms had frequent dealings with the regional chiefs Lusinga and Kasambala. The former had lived among the western Luba, and both men, like many chiefs in the region, were deeply influenced by the Luba's hierarchical political system. In December 1884, Storms brought back from the villages of these regional chiefs a representation of one ancestor and two ritual ancestral figures.
The realism with which Tabwa artists crafted their buffalo masks contrasts sharply with the imagination seen in Luba sculpture. Distinctly zoomorphic and masculine, the Tabwa buffalo masks, called kiyunde, have an exclusively anthropomorphic female pendant. Among the Tumbwe of the Kalemie region, buffalo masks of this type are still remembered in association with male initiation rites.