Mbuya (Village Mask)

Mbangu (Sickness 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 mbangu 'bewitched' mask. It is one of the oldest and most widespread of all Central Pende masks. The masquerade communicates the desired 'good' behaviour that community members must possess, and the potential pitfalls that may befall anyone that is deemed morally corrupt. The mbangu mask depicts someone that is bewitched, diseased or handicapped due to their moral corruption (some sources point to bewitchment caused by a jealous rival inflicting disease). It is believed that scars are borne by the inflicted falling into a fire after an epileptic fit.

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 (Mbangu – Bewitched):

  • Face is half black, half white
    • White symbolic of spirits of the dead (represents hope of illness cure)
    • Black symbolic of sickness and illness
  • One side of face is pulled down (facial paralysis)
  • Very long nose
  • Long narrow face
  • Angular expression of cheekbones (peanut shape to face)
  • Face pulled down on one side by a paralysis of the facial nerve
  • Small holes over masks left eyelid (representing smallpox scars)

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