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Tchokwe Katoyo mask

Tchokwe Katoyo mask
Tchokwe Katoyo maskTchokwe Katoyo maskTchokwe Katoyo maskTchokwe Katoyo mask
Tribe: Tchokwe
Country: Angola
Ritual: Initiation / Entertainment
Name: Katoyo
Materials: Wood, bark cloth, resin, leather, seed pods, buttons
Provenance: Paul Rabut Collection. Fernandez Leventhal Gallery Ltd NY, from Skinner Inc, Botton MA. Sale 2035 Jan 2001 Lot #90. Andrew Turley SuagaCollection 2001.
Comments: Ritual details and estimated age of 1930 confirmed by Dr Boris Wastiau, Associate Curator of the Division of Ethnography, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium in Jan 2002.

The Tchokwe have masks used in initiation rites - usually made of resin bark and fibre over a wicker work frame - and those used for entertainment - carved from wood to better withstand the rigours of travel from village to village.

During initiation boys between the ages of 8 and 12 spend months in a bush school where circumcision was carried out and masked men taught them adult behaviour, leading them through a series of trials. In the context of the ritual these men were not considered actors or performers but are thought to embody the beings they represent. They provide instruction dealing with the origin and structure of the universe, the creation of man, animals and plants, the origin of peoples and institutions, knowledge pertaining to the gods, spirits and supernatural powers as well as customs, festivals, ritual dances, songs, incantations and ritual symbols.

Katoyo or Chindele represents the European, white person or foreigner and has a protruding forehead or cap. It is intended as a caricature of "the other". It ridicules the "awkward" features and behaviours of foreigners. Facial hair is often attached near the mouth. Its performance is similar to that of Chisaluke (the only mask duplicated within the initiation camp representing a male tutelary spirit). The character is carried on peoples shoulders and performs explicit dances with its fuifui or phallus. This may relate directly to the perceived sexual behaviour of foreigners.

Animal masquerades and those representing "the fool" (Ndondo) and "the outsider" or "white man" (Katoyo) are performed to dramatize wild or untamed, foolish and absurd behaviors. These "poor" behaviors contrast with the virtues of such "accomplished" types as Pwo and certain other male characters.

After emailing photographs to the Royal Museum of African Art, Dr Boris Wastiau responded as follows:

"Dear Mr Turley, the mask you have bought is of the Katoyo type. It is not an initiation mask as such, but rather a (serious) entertainment one. It was invented in the first decades of the XXth Century as a depiction of settlers and colonial administrators. Of course portraits are not flattering. In any case, such masks are linked to ancestral spirits and perform in the village the age of this piece would be difficult to establish. Up to the 1940' resin was applied onto bark cloth, itself mounted on a twig structure, after which canvas replaced bark cloth and tar and wax gradually replaced the resin".


  1. Boris Wastiau, Assoc Curator, Division of Ethnography. Royal Museum for Central African Art. Tervuren. Belgium. 2002.
  2. A History of African Art, Harry. N. Abrams Inc Publisher NY 2001.
  3. African Masks of the Barbier Mueller Collection. Prestel Verlag Munich. 1998.
  4. Mask Categories. Chokwe.com. Online. 2001.