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Tchokwe Chihongo mask

Tchokwe Chihongo mask
Tchokwe Chihongo maskTchokwe Chihongo maskTchokwe Chihongo maskTchokwe Chihongo mask
Tribe: Tchokwe
Country: Angola
Ritual: Judiciary and entertainment
Name: Chihongo
Materials: Wood, brown and black stain, kaolin, vegetable fibre netting and string.
Provenance: Coll. Andrew Turley, Luanda, Angola 2010
Comments: This mask has a large chip out of its “beard” and another out of the band across the forehead. The inside of the mask has sweat marks on its outer edges. Although it has no cingelyengelye (maltese cross/cruciform markings) I believe this mask to be authentic but reasonably recent circa 1970-80.

Chihongo embodies the spirit of a deceased person and stands for prosperity and male power, forming a complimentary figure to the pwo mask with its embodiment of female traits and beauty. Many Tchokwe groups emphasize the royal qualities of this mask, which was formerly permitted to be danced and kept only by a chief or his sons. They were worn while the chief and/or his son travelled through their kingdom exacting tribute in exchange for protection that the spirit mask gave them.

While they used to play important roles in religious beliefs and institutional practices, Tchokwe masks have come to be used primarily for entertainment. Itinerant actors wearing these masks travel from village to village, living on gifts received at performances. Most of them are now carved from wood as they are more practical for travelling.

The gaunt features, sunken cheeks and stylised jutting beard are typical of all chihongo masks. The narrow band with a linear motif running over the forehead recalls a metal diadem (cipenya mutwe) reserved for high ranking women and men, an elaborate form of which was worn by chiefs on festive occasions. In addition, for its performances the chihongo mask was adorned with a feather crown like the headdress worn by chiefs and kings.

The filed teeth represent the practise that was carried on into the 1940’s and the scarification patterns on the cheeks and the forehead are typical however the stylised forehead cross found on many pwo and chihongo masks is absent in this example.

The vegetal netting seen in this example kept the mask on the face and when it was worn the mask was supplemented by a net costume with a white hooped skirt made of thick layers of makintu / mavundu grass. Other accessories include a broad axe or a belt.


  1. African Masks of the Barbier Mueller Collection. Prestel Verlag Munich. 1998.
  2. A History of Art in Africa, Harry N. Abrams Inc, New York. 2001
  3. Black Africa, Laure Meyer, Pierre Terrail, Paris 1992
  4. Spirits Speak: A Celebration of African Masks, Stepan & Hahner, Prestel, 2005
  5. The Tribal Arts of Africa, Jean-Baptiste Bacquart, Thames & Hudson, 1998