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Lwalwa mask

Lwalwa mask
Lwalwa maskLwalwa maskLwalwa maskLwalwa mask
Tribe: Lwalwa
Country: Angola
Ritual: Initiation
Name: Unknown
Materials: Wood with brown paint and blackish and white stain
Provenance: Coll. Andrew Turley, Northern Namibia 2010
Comments: This mask shows signs of wear and age through surface patination, staining on the inside back, cracks and breaks to the edges. The white geometric patterns are almost totally worn from the cap. It has been worn and used but it is not ‘significantly’ old. I believe it is circa 1970-1980.

The Lwalwa are known principally for their masks, marked by a balanced composition of geometric surfaces and projections. They typically display an enlarged nose, protruding mouth and elongated, lid-less, rectangular eyes.

These masks are thought to have been danced at initiations of adolescent boys performed by the ngongo society, as well as hunting and fertility rites, to propitiate spirits and gain their good will. Today the masks are performed largely for payment, and their spiritual ability has given way to entertainment.

This is a male mask, of which there are 3 categories. 2 of the 3 categories have a projecting nose (representing the bill of a certain bird), in this case the nose is flat and broad. Another difference is in 2 of the masks the brow line extends diagonally down from the bridge of the nose to the temple (representing a scarification pattern - kankolo or edjindula) in the case of this mask the brow line is flat across the forehead.

The cap-like coiffure is marked with faded geometric patterns in worn white paint. The hole under the nose was used to attach a cord, which the dancer held between his teeth to keep the mask from slipping.

The Lwalwa number around 20,000 and live on the border of the DRC and Angola. They are originally of Kete origin and although they remained independent they formed a relationship with the Salampasu and the Mbangi. Each village is headed by either a male or female chief, whose power is held in check by the ngongo society.


  1. African Masks of the Barbier Mueller Collection. Prestel Verlag Munich. 1998.
  2. Spirits Speak: A Celebration of African Masks, Prestel 2005 A History of African Art, Harry. N. Abrams Inc Publisher NY 2001.
  3. The Tribal Arts of Africa, Jean-Baptiste Bacquart, Thames & Hudson, 1998
  4. Africa Tribal Art of Forest and Savanna, Arnold Bamert, Thames & Hudson, 1980
  5. Black Africa, Laure Meyer, Pierre Terrail, Paris 1992