Ngaady aMwash (Mweel Mask)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Legend has it that Woot (the first man created by God) contracted an illness, ran to the forest with his sister (Mweel) for recovery and they eventually emerged out of the forest as husband and wife after an incestuous relationship.

To symbolise the pain of Mweel, and Kuba women in general, and to honour the various roles women play in Kuba culture, ngaady aMwash (meaning 'pawn woman of Mwash'; called ngady aMwaash or ngady mwaash aMbooy in different sources) masks are danced by male members of society during funerals, initiation ceremonies and annual celebrations retelling the creation of the Kuba kingdom.

Distinguishing Features

  • Carved wooden face mask
  • Closed, horizontal slit eyes
  • Broad nose
  • Separate ears attached to head
  • Painted black & white triangles and lines on forehead, under eyes & mouth
    • Triangles on forehead (called lakyeeng lanyeny; represent hearthstones and domesticity)
    • Diagonal lines extending below eyes, running down cheeks (called byoosh'dy; symbolise tears and the hardships of women. Also recall the pain of death)
  • Red, white and blue beads on face highlight facial features
    • Beaded band attached from bridge of nose, across center of mouth, down to chin (symbolises the silence of women)
    • Contours of mouth outlined by glass beads
    • Red symbolises suffering
    • White symbolises mourning
    • Blue symbolises high rank or status
  • Raffia fibre hood attached to perimeter of mask
    • Cowries sewn into the cap forming additional triangular forms
  • Band of cowrie shells, framed by glass beads, stitched to raffia at intersection between mask and hood

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