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Kuba Pwoom Itok mask

Kuba Pwoom Itok mask
Kuba Pwoom Itok maskKuba Pwoom Itok maskKuba Pwoom Itok maskKuba Pwoom Itok mask
Tribe: Kuba
Country: Democratic Republic of Congo
Ritual: Funerals and Puberty Rites
Name: Pwoom Itok
Materials: Wood, cowries, raffia, guinea fowl feathers
Provenance: Coll. Niels Andersen. Andrew Turley, SuagaCollection 2001.
Comments: Age estimated at circa 1960

The mask is worn by dancers at funerals of dignitaries and in puberty rites. It represents a wise and tired old man that other dancers come to consult.

The mask has a large bulging forehead running down to a sharp protruding nose and a small but pronounced mouth. The head-dress is in the shape of a crown made of raffia stuffed with grass and has cowries and guinea fowl feathers bunched at the peak. The carved relief on the forehead typifies the Kuba hairstyle shaved to a sharp angle over the temples - this hairstyle also appears on Kuba figures and anthromorphic palm wine cups.

Once again this Kuba mask has remnants of kaolin on the forehead forming characteristic triangular patterns associated with the scales of the pangolin (manis tricuspis). And underneath the eyes are vertical stripes on the cheeks representing tears.

The Kuba are located in south eastern Congo and number around 250,000. Their neighbouring people are Tchokwe, Luba and Luluwa. The kingdom is actually comprised of around 18 ethnic groups.

The name Bakuba is a Baluba word meaning “people of the lightening”. In the 16th Century the Kuba people migrated from the distant north to their current location along the Sakuru River. When the arrived they found the Twa already living there and eventually the Twa were absorbed into the kingdom but still managed to retain some of their individual characteristics. The kingdom was at its height in the mid 19th Century and was isolated with Europeans first reaching it in 1884. The kingdom was broken up by the invading Nsapo in the late 19th Century.


  1. A History of African Art, Harry. N. Abrams Inc Publisher NY 2001.
  2. University of Iowa, Art and Life in Africa Project and UIMA. Stanley Collection Database.
  3. The Tribal Arts of Africa, J.B. Bacquart. 1998.
  4. Special Exhibitions. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Online. 2000.