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African Art

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Artwork Details


Bembe Artist, Democratic Republic of the Congo


Late nineteenth–early twentieth century


Wood and pigments

Accession #



16 x 11 1/4 x 11 1/4 inches


On View - Stent Family Wing, Skyway, Gallery 403


Masks like this performed during initiation rituals of the alunga association, a powerful men’s organization charged with educating teenage boys and maintaining law and order. As the young men learned the mysteries of the mask through songs, the mask instructed them, “alunga is not a man, but a thing, something from the bush, something from very remote times, something very awe-inspiring. Never profane its mysteries.” This mask has two pairs of eyes, each painted white to indicate spiritual insight. Alunga associations were banned by the Belgian government in 1947 because their authority represented a challenge to colonial rule.


Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Richman to mark the retirement of Gudmund Vigtel