Chihongo Initiation Mask

Chokwe (Democratic Republic of the Congo; Zambian)
20th century
Wood, pigment, animal hair and twine
: 12 1/2 x 7 x 9 1/2 in. (31.75 x 17.78 x 24.13 cm)
Credit Line
Gift of David Kamansky and Gerald Wheaton
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Chihongo masks were traditionally used by the Chokwe people of Eastern Africa in ceremonies to initiate young men into adult society. A fringe of raffia fibers and cloth strips would have hung from the bottom of the mask to cover the wearer’s upper body. The chihongo mask represents an idealized ancestral chief. Its mustache and sharpened teeth are signs of power, age and wisdom. The Chokwe believe that chihongo masks channel the spirits of their deceased ancestors and forge a connection between the past, present and future. Although the mask was obviously made with great care, it was not intended primarily to be an aesthetic object and would only have been used and viewed in a ritual context.

Object Type