Lukwakongo (Ancestor Ornament)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The social and spiritual lives of the Lega people, are governed by a central initiation society known as Bwami; Bwami is responsible for teaching morality through community performances, dances and objects. The Bwami association includes 5 society grades including:

  1. Bwali (meaning 'circumcision'; the prerequisite association for joining Bwami where initiates are circumcised (between the ages of 12 and 20) and are thought lessons on the values and behaviours expected to Bwami members);
  2. Kongobulumbu the lowest grade of Bwami followed by a short ceremony where recently circumcised initiates are given even greater knowledge about the association;
  3. Ngandu is the highest grade in some communities (of which bombwa is the female equivalent);
  4. Yananio level consists of two sub-groups, the musagi wa yananio and the lutumbo iwa yananio (bulonda is the female equivalent) and,
  5. Kindi which is the most senior level of Bwami, sub-divided into three grades, kyogo kya kindi, musagi wa kindi and finally lutumbo iwa kindi. Bunyamwa is the equivalent kindi grade for women.

A Lega man must pass through all (voluntary) initiation societies respectively to be considered a rounded man with full insight into ancestral teachings and traditions. The Bwami association is also believed to strengthen bonds within the community.

Each initiation society has its own associated objects and sculptures (isengo, pl. masengo meaning 'heavy things') including the lukwakongo ornament (also known as bulinda) used by lutumbo iwa yananio initiates. Given by society teachers, initiates attach the ornament to their arms, sides of their heads or on their foreheads. The lukwakongo ornament is considered to be the most significant insignia of the yananio rank until it is traded in for an ivory ornament of the kindi grade. Yananio initiates believe that the ornaments and sculptures in their position are "symbols of continuity through the generations of Bwami."3

NOTE: "Most Lega 'masks' are actually ornaments rarely worn over the face. They are instead attached to different parts of the body, piled in stacks, hung on fences, displayed, dragged on the ground and occasionally worn on the forehead with the beard draping over the face of the wearer. They are used to portray the importance of ancestors and are among the initiation objects displayed on the grave of deceased members."3

Distinguishing Features

  • Made of wood
  • Small size (less than 7 inches in length)
  • High forehead
  • Oval or round mask
  • Heart-shaped concave face
  • Kaolin smeared on concave face
  • Forehead and edges have glossy brown patina
  • Dotted design on some ornaments (represent scarification marks)
  • Slit or round coffee bean eyes
  • Long straight nose
  • Some feature diagonal scarification marks on both cheeks
  • Carved small open mouth (represent pursed lips of displeased teacher / some outline rows of teeth)
  • Fibre beard
  • Vertical handle on back of ornament (used to hold ornament)

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