Skip to main content


Late 19th century
Artist/maker unknown, Songye, Kalebwe

This type of mask is associated with kifwebe (plural bifwebe) associations in central Africa, first documented in the early 1900s by European anthropologists. Beginning in the 1920s, in order to circumvent prohibitions on indigenous African religious and sociopolitical organizations, secular forms of bifwebe were developed and used to entertain Belgian colonial officials and European tourists.

Carved wooden masks like this one are just one element of a masquerade ensemble, which includes raffia accoutrements to cover the body of the male practitioner of masende, the Songye term for the powerful spiritual and pharmacological knowledge acquired through intensive training. Attributed to an unidentified maker in the Kalebwe region of what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this work’s tricolor striations, projecting and abstracted facial features, and distinctive crest are characteristic of masks from the area.

Object Details

We are always open to learning more about our collections and updating the website. Does this record contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? Contact us here.

Please note that this particular artwork might not be on view when you visit. Don’t worry—we have plenty of exhibitions for you to explore.