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Salampasu Mugongo mask

Salampasu Mugongo mask
Salampasu Mugongo maskSalampasu Mugongo maskSalampasu Mugongo maskSalampasu Mugongo mask
Tribe: Salampasu
Country: Democratic Republic Congo
Ritual: Initiation
Name: Mugongo
Materials: Wood, pigments, feathers, braided fibers, netting
Provenance: Coll. Luanda, Angola, Andrew Turley 2010
Comments: This mask has a deeply bulging forehead and a narrow face with deeply slanted eyes. The nicks and scrapes on the mask form natural and realistic wear patterns and point to an age estimated at circa 1970-80.

The Salampasu have experienced many social, political and economic changes in the 20th century that have directly affected their art. Religious zealots travelled through the region in the late 1960ís destroying masks and sculptures. Nevertheless masks are still danced at male circumcision ceremonies.

In the past these circumcision ceremonies were part of the Mugongo society. Boys were initiated into the Mugongo society through a circumcision camp. They rose through its ranks by gaining access to a hierarchy of masks and the esoteric knowledge they were associated with. The right to own and understand each mask in the hierarchy was procured through specific deeds and payments.

Mask performances were only open to those men who had the right to wear the mask. Owning many masks indicated the possession of wealth and knowledge.

Lower level masks were carved of wood (as this one is) and painted. The most senior mask was often covered with sheet copper. Most of the masks have pointed teeth, referring to the process of filing the teeth; this was part of the initiation and indicated a noviceís strength and discipline.


  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
  6. Africa Tribal Art of Forest and Savanna, Arnold Bamert, Thames & Hudson, 1980