African art > African mask, tribal art, primitive art > Tschokwe mask
Chokwe Chihongo mask (N° 20739)
A companion to the African Pwo mask, always worn by dancers of royal descent, this mask is also used during initiation rites in the mukanda society. A very realistic hair ornament, made of human hair and raffia fibers, bordered by a beaded necklace,
highlights delicately carved features.
The sacred Chihongo mask ( chihongo also being a plant with therapeutic virtues) , endowed with a wide grinning mouth , is used during circumcision rites and royal ceremonies.
The characteristic patterns present on the forehead, and sometimes on the cheekbones, are part of the Chokwe aesthetic canons but also served as public markers of ethnic identity, such as the chingelyengelye cross.
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Peacefully settled in eastern Angola until the sixteenth century, the Chokwe were then subjected to the Lunda empire from which they inherited a new hierarchical system and the sacredness of power. Nevertheless, the Chokwe never fully adopted these new social and political contributions. Three centuries later, the Chokwe eventually took over the capital of the Lunda, which had been weakened by internal conflicts, thus contributing to the dismantling of the kingdom. The Chokwe did not have a centralized power but rather large chiefdoms. It was these chieftainships that attracted artists who wished to put their skills at the exclusive service of the court. The artists created so many varied pieces of such quality that the Lunda court employed only them.
(source: Chokwe, B. Wastiau)