Always worn by higher-ranking initiates, these African masks embodying a female ancestor were often adorned with buttons and accessories of European origin.
A loose braided hairstyle adorns the face with large eyeballs. Satin mahogany patina.
Peacefully settled in eastern Angola until the 16th century, the Chokwe were then subjected to the Lunda empire from which they inherited a new hierarchical system and the sacredness of power.
The African Chokwe pwo masks, among the many akishi (sing: mukishi, indicating power) masks of African Chokwe art, embody an ideal of beauty, Mwana Pwo, or the female Pwo and appear today during festive ceremonies.
Joined with their male counterparts, chihongo recognizable by their large, tray-shaped headdress, the pwo are believed to bring fertility and prosperity to the community. The cultural logic of these two icons developed during the pre-colonial period continues to inspire artists in northeastern Angola to this day.
The characteristic patterns on the forehead, and sometimes on the cheekbones, are part of the Chokwe aesthetic canon but also served as public markers of ethnic identity.
The recurring cruciform frontal motif is also thought to have cosmogonic significance.
(source: Chokwe, B. Wastiau)
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