Pende Mbangu mask, Democratic Republic of the Congo
wood, woven raffia, pigment
10" tall x 7" wide
70's-80's, signs of age and use
This mask is an example that would have been used as a forehead mask where the woven structure attached to the back would
have held it in place, much like a cap.
"The mask is recognized by an opposition of black and white that bisects the face and a general distortion of facial features
specifically the twisted nose and mouth. The color white, symbolic of the spirits of the dead, in this case represents the hope of
being cured of illness. The black pigment stands for the sickness and illness that ravages one throughout life. The combination of
black against white symbolizes this struggle. It is very rare in Africa to find any work of art that depicts an individual strickened by
sickness,infirmity or any type of disease.
It is believed that disease can be brought about by an act offending spirits of ancestors and is often viewed as a punishment. Thus,
many objects showing disease are used to instruct the community and to caution against destructive behavior. This is especially true
of masks, which are danced to teach or remind members of the community about rules and responsibilities. A selection of Nigerian
Ibibio and Congolese Pende masks underline the connection between disease and moral values.
Disease is also attributed to sorcery. Sorcerers are believed to be capable of activating malevolent forces against individuals,
families or the community, often in the form of physical or mental illness.
Forming a sharp contrast with sculptures showing the ideal of health, other figures and masks represent a range of physical
deformities caused by disease and mental imbalance.
The mbangu mask is a variation on the representation of a highly regarded hunter who has been stricken with facial paralysis. It
demonstrates how even the most esteemed and upright member of the community can unexpectedly be afflicted with sickness. In
this case, the Pende believe that the individual is a victim of sorcery, bewitched by a rival who jealously inflicted him with disease.
This mask teaches Pende audiences about the rewards of good behavior and of the pitfalls of those who are morally flawed."
(Source: To Cure and Protect)