Songye mask, Democratic Republic of Congo
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Certain masking traditions of the Congo River basin personify local control of mystical power. Striated face masks known as kifwebe probably originated in North Shaba, an area inhabited by both Songye and Luba groups. Significant departures in the role and formal interpretation of this art form subsequently developed in each culture. Among the small Songye chiefdoms along the Lomami River, maskers were emissaries of the ruling elite, who relied on the ideology of witchcraft and sorcery to sustain their rule. These kifwebe members commanded a body of esoteric secret knowledge visually encoded mnemonically in the mask’s features. Hierarchical distinctions between a single female mask and an unlimited number of male masks are reflected in color and in sculptural features.