Mbuya (Village Mask)

Giwoyo (Cadaver Headdress)

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 giwoyo (called kiwoyo among the Eastern Pende); said to be among the oldest Pende masking traditions. Believed to represent the spirit of the dead, giwoyo masks are worn on the top of the head of the dancer to give the appearance of a cadaver in a coffin during a wake.

Danced in the bush during performances, the masqueraders "swing their hips gracefully as they hold a fly-switch with one hand and a raffia cloth with the other. They spread out their arms as they leap and twirl, making the raffia fibres of their costume fly and flap about. They drop on their knees, dance in squatting position, raise their folded arms to the height of their shoulders, and nod their heads up and down." 1

Distinguishing Features

  • Carved from a single piece of wood
  • Jutting triangular-shaped forehead
  • Eyebrows join to make an 'M' line
  • Eyes depicted as half closed, half moons
  • Eyes not pierced
  • Upturned nose
  • Prominent cheekbones
  • Scarification marks carved into cheeks, forehead and temples
  • Small downturned mouth
  • Sharply pointed chin
  • Wide 'V' band (sometimes painted white) separates face from projection
  • Long tapering projection below mouth
    • Stylised beard in style of prolonged wooden chin (gilanga or mutumbi)
    • Projection embellished with light and dark triangles and diamond shapes
    • Small hole in middle of projection
    • Thick raffia fringe hangs down from entire edge of projection
  • Strongly chiseled features

Regional variations (Central Pende):

  • Giwoyo headdresses have flat plane to face
  • Face an elongated heart shape
  • Forehead and eyes protrude forward

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