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Lega People from Congo and Their Art

Lega Mask from Congo – Gallery Preira Photo

Brief History

After fleeing from Uganda in the 17th century, the Lega tribe settled on the west bank of the Lualaba River in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire).

They are also known as the Warega, the 200,000 people who constitute the Lega tribe live in autonomous villages, collectively situated at the top of a hill surrounded by a palisade.

The chief, Kindi is how Lega tribe peoples refer to him, is the oldest member of the tribe who also holds the highest grade within the Bwami society.

The Bwami, which is open to both men and women, regulates social and political life of the Lega.

Progression through the seven male and four female grades is made possible by the giving of presents and the participation in initiations.

Division of labour is gender based: men hunt- and clear new land and women cultivate manioc.

Photo from Google

“The teachings of Bwami permeate all aspects of life, guiding the moral development of the individual and governing relations with others. Bwami doctrine is represented by wood and ivory masks, heads, and small figures, all of which play a vital role during initiation into the society’s highest grades. Although simple in form, these carved objects embody complex and multiple meanings, elaborated through proverbs, skits, and dances. The masks refer to ancestors and are passed from one generation of initiates to the next as symbols of continuity. For the Lega, physical beauty and moral excellence are inseparable. The dotted-circle motifs on many Lega works represent body markings, which enhance both the carvings and the characters they depict. The smooth polished surfaces of these sculptures allude to the refined and perfected nature of the Bwami initiate.”

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/312471

“There are seven levels of initiation for men and four for women, starting at puberty and going through life at various key stages. Some of the items used in the initiation ceremonies seem quite mundane to us, such as the use of stools. But to the Lega, the stool represents the cohesion of the initiated members, with the glossy patina of the seat being a metaphor for the wisdom and poise of the initiate, and the roughness of the base being symbolic of the untutored. “

https://art-africain-traditionnel.com/en/blog/post/1-lega-art-at-the-service-of-ancestors-and-initiation

Lega People from Congo and Their Art

Lega sculpture appeals both to the eye and mind, simple and elegant lines demonstrate the great technical skill of the Lega craftsmen. Their masks are known by their characteristic features of bean shaped eyes, long nose and small open mouth, the whole framed by raffia beards and hair. 

Here is an example of a beautiful Lega Mask we have in our vast collection and is for sale:

Lega Mask from Congo – Gallery Preira
The back of this Lega Mask from Congo – Gallery Preira
Lega Mask from Congo – Gallery Preira Photo
Lega Mask from Congo – gallery Preira Photo

The the wood at the back of the mask presents a lovely patina of use.

From: Belgium Private collection

Size: 47cm x 16cm

Date: Mid 20 Century

Weight: 0.66kg

Lega masks are not worn on the face as it is traditional, but they are either tied to the arm or displayed on specific ceremonial frames. These masks reveal their secrets to the initiate, their precise messages being passed on by the tutor through the power of the ancestor.

Lega masks are representations of the ancestors and are owned by men initiated into the highest level of the second highest grade of the Bwami.

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