In what is today part of the Congo, the Kuba people originally settled in the land between the Sankuru and Kasai rivers. Kuba art is considered to be some of the most highly developed in all of West Africa.
The Kuba are subdivided into many distinct tribes and each clan pays tribute to the ruling Bushoong king which united the tribes in the 16th century. Today they number over 17,000 and are stilled ruled by a king.
This finely decorated Kuba funeral mask sells at the Hauser Gallery for $800.
Much attention has been given to the uses of masks associated with Kuba initiation ceremonies, but now we are learning of the importance of these masks in funeral rites. This heavily beaded and shelled Kuba mask in our gallery whose base is fringed with animal hair seems to have been created for regal ceremonies and/or funeral uses.
The cowrie shells laid quite heavily on this mask symbolize wealth and fertility as befitting a king , as well as being a symbol of mourning. The whiteness of the shells recalls the bones of the deceased. Some such masks of this type with intricate decorations have been known to end up in the graves of kings.
Typical of such Kuba funeral masks, this artifact has a broad slightly bulging forehead with scarification, narrow slit eyes, animal hair around the base, and featuring backward facing horns. The extensive cowrie shells and intricate beading lend this mask an especially beautiful and regal aspect.