Mwana Pwo (Young Woman Mask)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Found amongst the Chokwe of Angola, these feminine masks (Pwo meaning ‘woman’ - an adult woman that has given birth and Mwana Pwo meaning ‘young woman’ - youthful, feminine beauty) are used to pay homage to female ancestors believed to be responsible for the fertility of the community.

Worn by men of the community, the masks are used during masquerade celebrations (danced together with the male counterpart, Chihongo / Cihongo) to bring fertility, peace, wealth and wellbeing to the village. The man that wears the mask completes his masquerade ensemble with wooden breasts and a bustle allowing the dancer to move delicately and gracefully, emulating a woman (young girls learn manners and grace by watching performances).

NOTE: Masks with few scarification details are used to represent the younger Mwana Pwo.

Distinguishing Features

  • High forehead occasionally carved with head-band
  • 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
  • Sharply defined mouth
    • Partially open
    • Protruding flattened lips
    • Filed triangular teeth
  • 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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