Masks and figure sculpture of the Songye of Eastern Kasai

Dunja Hersak
1981
This thesis, on the masks and magical statuary of the Songye, is based on field work conducted in Eastern Kasai, Zaire, in 1977/78 among the Kalebwe, Cofwe and Eastern Songye chiefdoms. In its concern with the function of the two types of sculpture, the thesis examines relevant aspects of the social, political and cosmological contexts. It is thereby revealed how the masks, or bifwebe, serve the ruling elite as a means of social control by exercising practices of malevolent magic, that is,
more » ... ry and witchcraft. By contrast, the popular use of figure sculpture is seen as a socially benign magical practice which alleviates communal and individual tensions. However, in examining the making, manipulation and especially the symbolic framework of masks and figures the interrelationships of a holistic concept of Songye magic are exposed. On the basis of the masks and statuary seen mainly among the Eastern Songye, collections studied at the Museum of Mankind (London), the Musee Royale de l'Afrique Centrale (Tervuren), the Institut des Musees Nationaux du Zaire (Kinshasa and Lubumbashi) and a few private collections in Belgium, a formal classification of the two sculptural forms is established. With the masks three different functional categories are identified - male youth, male elder, female - and the stylistic development of two regional tendencies is pointed to, the Kalebwe/Cofwe and the Eastern Songye. In the case of statuary the characteristics of three main genres are outlined, community, personal and white-faced figures. Stylistically the absence of regional distinctness is noted among figures; however, the impact of the Kalebwe sculptural tradition is observed throughout the central Songye territory and its influence on the kifwebe style is also examined.
doi:10.25501/soas.00028844 fatcat:orohobnzorcxnplvpy27q3qtjy