Advanced Search

K-12 Educator
K-12 Student
Museum Visitor
UMMA Docent
UMMA Staff
University Faculty
University Student
Between and Mortarboard

UMMA Object Specific Fields

Query builder


Accession Number



Artist Nationality
Luba (culture or style)

Object Creation Date
circa 1940

Medium & Support
wood, raffia, feathers, kaolin

30 in x 17 in x 12 in (76.2 cm x 43.18 cm x 30.48 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Candis and Helmut Stern

Subject matter
This anthropomorphic, ceremonial mask is attributed to the western Luba, who resided in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Of the several forms of masks worn by the Luba, this is an example of the best known type and is called a kifwebe (plural, bifwebe). These striated masks with parallel grooves, usually whitened on a dark background, represent benevolent ancestral spirits and were donned by male and female dancers performing together in pairs at initiation and circumcision ceremonies, funerals, and rites associated with the arrival of the new moon and the removal of malevolent forces from the community.  Through such performances, the dancers summoned the spirits' assistance, guidance, and protection.  Typically, round or hemispherical shaped masks symbolized female spirits while oblong masks, such as this one, designated male ones. In addition to the face mask, a dancer would wear a long, voluminous raffia dress, completing the costume.  Collectively, the costumes served as visual and tactile reminders of the society's beloved maternal and paternal forebearers.  

A History of Art in Africa.  2nd Edition.  Eds. Monica Visona, Robin Poynor, and Herbert Cole.  Upper Saddle River, NJ:  Pearson Education, Inc., 2008. 
Maurer, Evan M. and Niangi Batulukisi.  Spirits Embodied:  Art of the Congo, Selections from the Helmut F. Stern Collection.  Minneapolis:  The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1999.

Physical Description
This western Luba kifwebe (plural, bifwebe), a striated mask with parallel grooves, has a rectangular, box-like form. A dense raffia fiber beard has been tightly bound around the carved wooden face. The mask was crowned by a black and white cock feather headdress (now lost due to damage) that perfectly matched the black and white striations. The vertical and arching lines suggest the mask derives from the Manono region, yet the black and white coloring indicates it originates further northwest in the Kabalo area. Moreover, the mask possesses many stylistic features of Songye bifwebe including the stylization of the eyes, mouth, and saggital crest; however, this mask’s cubic shape makes it markedly different from Songye ones. Here, the mouth protrudes with square, pursed lips, the eyes appear as horizontal slits with slightly overhanging eyebrows, the crest extends from the forehead eventually forming the nose, and the chin is flat and wide. Faint traces of white clay (kaolin) appear in the grooves. The wooden face bears numerous nicks and scrapes, and the raffia beard has brittled over time.

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type

Collection Area

If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form. Keywords
dance masks
dances (performance events)
spirits (beings)

& Author Notes

All Rights Reserved

On display