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Currently shown

Mukenga Mask

Location

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO, KASAI REGION

Era

Kuba Kingdom (17th c.-present)

Title

Mukenga Mask

Date

Before 1972

Materials

Raffia, animal hide, cowrie shells, beads, wood

Dimensions

57.2 x 46 x 43.2 cm (without base)

Credits

Purchase, Marjorie Caverhill Bequest, inv. 1972.F.7

Collection

Archeology and World Cultures

Mukenga masks are worn during the funerals of men of high rank in the northern part of the Kuba Kingdom. The small cowrie shells and beads, imported materials, are symbols of wealth due to their historically limited availability. Cowrie shells were even used as currency, notably by slave traders. Their white colour is associated with the spirit world and the blue of the beads with that of high social status. The protuberance on the top of the mask represents an elephant’s trunk, a reference to the power of that animal as well as the wealth acquired by the Kuba Kingdom in the nineteenth century through its control of the ivory trade.

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