Kifwebe (Power Mask)

Kilume (Male Mask)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The Bwadi Bwa Kifwebe male society is responsible for maintaining control, order and rule among the Songye people of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Community leaders makes use of witchcraft (buchi) and magic (masende) to enforce desired behaviour; to harness the powers of buchi and masende, kifwebe (literally meaning 'mask') masks are danced.

It is believed that the power of the masks provide Bwadi Bwa Kifwebe members with wealth and supernatural abilities. Sources also point to their use during the installation and funeral of chiefs, the initiation rites of young boys and also in secret society meetings.

Distinguishing Features

Common features among all kifwebe masks:

  • High dome shaped cranium
  • Nearly flattened, trapezoidal facial plane
  • Striations across entire face
    • Pattern of geometric grooved lines (bikoko; representation of stripes and patterns found on animals in the region)
    • Grooves follow direction of facial plane
  • Downcast large eyes
    • Heavy hooded upper eyelids
    • Eye slits (mitoshi / miteshi)
  • Flattened nose (mbaso / mbuanya)
    • Nose ends in a straight edge or rounded form
  • Nasal hair in some examples (mpo / nungu)
  • Rectangular mouth (etondo) protrudes to same level as nose
  • Flat, broad chin (mukombo)
  • Raffia attached to chin (mwefu meaning beard)
  • NOTE: There are many variations in proportion, size and colour

Sub-type variations (Kilume - Male Mask):

  • Sagittal crest extends over the head into the nose
    • NOTE: The larger the crest, the greater the magical potential and mythical strength of the masked figure
  • Grooved striations on surface are wider and more vigorously carved
  • Bulging eyes
  • Striations painted red, black and white
    • They must bear all three colours (but red is considered to be the identifying sign)
  • NOTE: Greater diversity in male masks than in female examples

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