Mbuya (Village Mask)

Pumbu (Executioner)

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 pumbu (also called phumbu in some sources) 'executioner' mask. The Central Pende pumbu represents an ngunza; someone that has drawn human blood (this can include a soldier, circumciser, or a hunter that has killed a ferocious animal like a lion or leopard).

NOTE: The Eastern Pende also have a 'twin' mask called pumbu that has a similar history in use but very different distinguishing features.

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 (Pumbu – Executioner):

  • Horned (sometimes sharply pointed) coiffure
  • Receding hairline
  • Excessively bulging forehead
  • Some have knobs at temples
  • Narrow, thin and sharply chiseled face
  • Enormous eyeholes
  • Nose and mouth extend far out when viewed in profile
  • Sunken cheeks
  • Scarification marks on cheeks and forehead
  • Sharply carved jawbone
  • Long chin
  • Peanut-shaped silhouette

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