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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Chokwe : Chokwe Wooden Pwo Face Mask
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Chokwe Wooden Pwo Face Mask - PF.4807 (LSO)
Origin: Southwestern Congo/Angola/Zambia
Circa: 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 12.5" (31.8cm) high x 8.25" (21.0cm) wide
Collection: African
Medium: Wood and Mixed Media

Location: United States
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This elegant and stylish mask was made in Angola by the Chokwe group, and is an exceptional piece. It appears to be a female face, and is known as a Pwo mask. It is a long face, with a high, domed brow, a large mouth and a long nose. The eyes are small, but set in large surrounds with arched double brows. The central forehead scarring (which is known as cingelyengelye) is very large, and is accompanied by extensive scarring on the cheeks and chin. The apex is decorated with ridged hair, and the ears adorned with earrings.

The Tchokwe are distributed across Angola, the DR of Congo and Zambia, and can trace their ancestry to the Lunda Empire of the 15th century, when a mass-migration occurred out of Lunda/Luba territory. The resulting kingdoms – including the Tchokwe, Luena, Songo, Ovimbundu and Imbagala – were all closely allied until the mid 19th century when the Tchokwe, following a great famine, migrated south. Their art and culture is thus distinctive compared to that of the other Lunda-descended tribes.

Society is governed by a God-King (Mwana Ngana), under whom men’s (Mugonge) and women’s (Ukule) societies control age classes and ensure social harmony. This system has resulted in a series of masks that are designed to defuse social tensions, celebrate important events (i.e. circumcisions), impose judiciary powers and promote fertility, health and well-being. The main mask forms for which the Tchokwe are known are the male Cihongo mask – which symbolises wealth, power and judicial authority – and the female Pwo mask, which is an embodiment of idealised femininity. The two “sexes” were sometimes danced together at ceremonies to ensure fertility and prosperity. The statues made by the Chokwe are primarily concerned with representing their ancestors, as seen here, or queens. Some more flippant representations were made from the mid 20th century for the tourist trade.

Items such as this are both attractive and socially important. This is an impressive piece of African art.

- (PF.4807 (LSO))


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