Our page banner is a detail of a Dan mask from the Ivory Coast and Liberia.
Photo: (Creative Commons) © Roman Bonnefoy
The Lwalwa mask above is an ‘mvondo’ mask which is worn by men.
Lwalwa masks are stylized using simple geometric forms to represent the features of the face. The eyes of the mask are rectangular holes and the nose is a long flat triangle that often stretches to the top of the head. The ears are reduced to small bumps and a stylized mouth projects from above a pointed chin.
Lwalwa masks are carved from a wood called ‘mulela’ and colored with a dye from the fruit of the ‘mukula’ tree, also called the ‘bloodwood’ or ‘sealing wax’ tree.
Lwalwa sculptors are privileged members of the tribe and are highly paid for their craft. Their skills are often passed down from father to son.
The Lwalwa are famous for their dancing and masks play an important part in their celebrations, particularly the secret rituals of the ‘bangongo’ society who were responsible for the initiation of young men into adulthood.
The Lwalwa people are related to the Lulua and like them, the men are hunters and the women are farmers. They live in the southwest area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo stretching into Angola.