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Mask with Head Cloth, Ngady Mwaash Permanent Collection:
Sub-Saharan African Art:
Mask with Head Cloth, Ngady Mwaash

Zaïre, Kuba, Bushoong, 19th century A.D. Wood, fiber, shells, cloth, beads, skin, pigment, 17 3/8 x 11 1/2 x 7 in. (44 x 29 x 18 cm). 1994.4.93

Various Kuba groups produce the Ngady Mwaash mask representing Mweel, the sister of their culture-hero Woot. In the southern Kuba area, this female mask performs with male masks at dances held to honor deceased members of the initiation society, while at the capital of Nsheng, it forms part of a mask triad which performs dances related to the mythic origin of the Kuba people.

The decorative patterns on the face of the mask represent sacrality and mourning. Lines running down from the eyes are read as tears shed at the death of an initiated man. The fabric hat is distinctive to Kuba female diviners (prophets). The costume is completed by a pair of gloves and slippers, a raffia fiber skirt, and a hide or barkcloth vest with attached wooden breasts.

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