Ndunga ('Wife of the Day' Mask)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The Woyo (and Vili) of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola, make use of wooden masks,  banana leaf and feather costumes called ndunga. The masks and costumes are worn by members of Bandunga (also called Bakama Ba Mwinya; sing. Ndunga and Nkama respectively; meaning 'wife of the day'), a sub-group of the collective Bakama male society (which also includes Mpuela—the society for musicians, and Bakama Bwa Bwilu (meaning 'wife of the night')—the society responsible for preventing prohibited activities and for imposing sanctions for non-compliance).

The Bandunga sub-group is responsible for maintaining the social and natural order of their given community and are said to be a 'secret police' force. By order of the chief (ntinu) of the region, or by earth spirits (bakisi basi; sing. nkisi nsi), Bandunga members, wearing their ndunga masks, track down and punish criminals and witches—violators of prohibited activities—that are believed to cause conflict, drought, and failed harvests. "They also played an important part in the rituals and ceremonial dances [also called ndunga] associated to the cult of the spirits of nature, invoking them to favour good crops."1 A final use for ndunga masks was during funeral ceremonies of notables and chiefs.

Although collectively called ndunga and similar in appearance, each mask is said to be unique and has its own name based on the proverb it represents. The mask's name is revealed in the dance, behaviour, and emotions portrayed by the masquerader (such as fear, anger, or depictions of disease or deformity). Examples of unique names include Mabobolo Ngoshi, Mambowa, Kumbukutu, and Mfuci Ki Fula.

Distinguishing Features

  • Made of wood
  • Larger than human face
  • Severe, frantic, terrifying or comic facial expression
  • Slit eyes
  • Slightly open mouths (sometimes with teeth indicated)
  • Painted in multiple colours (red, white, black)
    • Some have dots painted on (represent smallpox; mbuambua)
    • Stripes or bands painted from eyes, down cheeks (represent tears; n'zembele masuele)

Share this