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Mask for Elanda Society (’Amgeningeni or ’Acwe)

An imaginative combination of materials makes this mask visually striking, as well as unusual in Western museum collections, which emphasize masks carved from wood. Worn by a leader of the Elanda Society, a men’s association concerned with enforcing community laws and mores, the mask does not represent a specific being, but rather is said to be an ebu’a, “something hidden, unseen, unrecognizable, undefinable.” Elanda masks are typically made of hide that is covered with cowrie shells and beads (this one also has two buttons below the cowrie shells under the mouth) and surrounded by chicken feathers; the addition to the face mask of a chest piece makes this a particularly elaborate example.

Bembe peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Mask for Elanda Society (’Amgeningeni or ’Acwe)
First half of the 20th century
Hide, beads, feathers, quills, shells, buttons, fiber
H. 27 in. (68.5 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 65.38