Chihongo (Spirit of Wealth Mask)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Found amongst the Chokwe of Angola, these masculine masks (Chihongo, sometimes called Cihongo, meaning ‘spirit of wealth’) are used to symbolise wealth and power. The masqueraders wearing the mask pay homage to male ancestors believed to be responsible for the prosperity and strength of the community. Traditionally used to represent the male chief ancestor Chihongo, the masks were once only reserved for use by chieftaincy during royal events such as the initiation of a new chief.

The masks are now worn for entrainment purposes, by men of the community, during masquerade celebrations (danced together with the female counterpart, Pwo) to bring fertility, peace, wealth and wellbeing to the village.

Distinguishing Features

  • Made of wood
  • Gaunt, angular features
  • Prominent arched eyebrows
  • High forehead
  • Protruding ears are usually curved or semi-circular with the tragus depicted
  • Eyes placed in large, concave sockets
    • Usually almond-shaped
    • Usually half-closed slits
    • Swollen eyelids prolonged down to centre of concave eye-sockets
  • Sunken cheeks
  • Sharply defined broad mouth
    • Usually the full width of mask
    • Partially open
    • Protruding flattened lips
    • Filed triangular teeth
  • Jutting beard (horizontal disc like projection at chin)
  • Top of mask is lined with holes for attaching elaborate headgear
  • Scarification usually engraved, cut away or carved in relief (older masks always depict scarification which was seen as a sign of beauty along with filed teeth). Scarification marks include:
    • Cingelyengelye: triangular marks on the centre of the forehead representing the Chokwe creator god, Nzambi
    • Cijingo: circular sun disks carved on the cheeks, denoting a spiral brass bracelet
    • Mitelumuna: carved on the forehead and extending to the temples, denoting ‘knitted eyebrows’ to show arrogance or dissatisfaction
    • Masoji: vertical marks carved under the eyes, denoting tears
    • Kapile: patterns on the chin
    • Kangongo: deep line down the nose

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