Kipoko (Chief Helmet Mask)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The Eastern Pende believe that the kipoko mask (meaning 'sword user'; poko meaning 'knife' or 'sword') contains the spirit of male beauty and represents the Chief of the community. The big eyes and ears of the mask represent the Chief's ability to see and hear everything in the community and to identify evil doers and witches. The tiny mouth in the mask represents the Chief's ability to control his speech.

The mask is used for a number of community functions, the most important of which is to venerate and give thanks to the Chief and ancestors for successful harvests, healing, fertility and protection. By giving thanks, the community ensures continued blessings from ancestors. The mask is also used during the mukanda initiation ceremony that marks the end of male circumcision rituals. The initiates take a bite of ritualistic food placed on the tip of the mask's nose while at the same time swearing to keep secret the lessons learned during the mukanda rites.

Distinguishing Features

  • Head carved in a wooden cylinder
  • Hair on the temples brought back
  • Eyebrows usually extend to base of ears
  • Ovoid (almond shaped), bulbous eyes, strongly stretched and split
  • Ears stick out from head
  • Nose protrude at right angle to face
  • Slight flaring of nostrils
  • Flat projecting lower edge
  • Triangular motifs on neck and rim
  • Red, black, white pigment

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