Cosmic Connections

Kifwebe moon mask, Songye, Democratic Republic of the Congo, early-mid 20th century; National Museum of African Art collection

Thunder Diety Staff, Yoruba, Nigeria; National Museum of African Art collection

 

Top, Kifwebe moon mask, Songye, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Certain striated masks called kifwebe have lunar connections.  Among the eastern Songye, kifwebe predominantly white in color were identified as female.  The color white has positive attributes and is associated with light and the moon.  Male kifwebe masks, in contrast, are distinguished by boldly colored bands of red, black and white. Out of context, it would be difficult to identify with certainty the gender of kifwebe masks residing in museum collections.

Kifwebe masking societies, found among both the Songye and the Luba peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, served regulatory and judicial functions and were associated with expressions of power and authority over potentially negative, anti-social behavior.

Bottom, Thunder Diety Staff, Yoruba, Nigeria

In ceremonies honoring Shango, the Yoruba god of thunder and lightning, devotées dance with wooden staffs that depict Shango’s symbol of the double-bladed axe – a reference to the Neolithic stones  that he is said to throw to earth as thunderbolts during storms whenever the fiery-tempered deity is displeased.  When carved by a master artist, Shango’s axe may be rendered as a projecting coiffure or as the faceted elements of a multi-headed staff. At times, Shango dance staffs may also include representations of the rainbow serpent, a powerful spiritual force and a symbol of fertility, perpetuity, and prosperity.

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