Mbuya (Village Mask)

Gambanda (Young Woman Mask)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Mbuya village masks are used to entertain a community during non-ritual festivities. Once used during mukanda initiation ceremonies to mark the end of male circumcision rituals, mbuya masquerades are now used to highlight a number of characters and roles in Pende society. There are two main groups of masks used during festivals. The following include some of the characters portrayed during festivities:

Comedic Masks (Mbuya Jia Ilelesa)

  • Tundu (Clown)
  • Gandumbu (Old Female Widow)
  • Mubolodi (Man On Way To Chop Down A Tree)
  • Tata Gambinga (Diviner)

Masks of Beauty (Mbuya Jia Ginango)

  • Matala (Young Man)
  • Pumbu (Executioner)
  • Mbangu (Bewitched)
  • Giwoyo / Kiwoyo-Muyombo (Long Bearded Man)

Others include the Chief (Fumu / Ufumu), the Village Flirt (Gabuku), the Prostitute (Ngobo) and the Witchdoctor (Nganga). One of the many mbuya masks performed at community festivities, is the gambanda 'young woman' mask (which forms part of a collection of female masks known as mbuya ya mukhetu - 'the woman's mask'; called kambanda among the Eastern Pende). Some sources point to gambanda representing the calm, obedient and beautiful wife of the Chief (fumu) while others state that gambanda is instead a representation of the Pende ideal for femininity and beauty and is considered a suitable wife for a high-ranking Pende male.

Distinguishing Features

Common features among must mbuya masks:

  • Triangular face
  • High, protuberant, jutting forehead
  • Half-open coffee bean eyes
  • Widened eye-slits
  • Downcast expression
  • Upturned nose
  • Most feature sharp teeth
  • Geometric forms

Sub-type variations (Gambanda – Young Woman):

  • Smooth, flat forehead
  • Forehead sometimes enhanced by 'U' form
  • Fine eyebrows that taper finely at the ends
  • Rounded thick upper eyelids (forming the zanze gaze - a shy, sidelong glance)
  • Thin lower eyelids
  • Smaller eyeholes compared to male mbuya versions
  • Rounded cheekbones
  • Traditional ornaments on the cheeks (raised scarification)
  • Slender, refined nose
  • Flesh around the nose raised
  • Teeth exposed
  • Sharply pointed chin

Regional variations (Eastern Pende):

  • More angular than Central Pende masks
  • Shallower facial plane when compared with Central Pende masks

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