Old Lega mask
- Private collection, UK
In the forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo art is created primarily for semisecret associations of men and women, such as the Bwami society of the Lega peoples. 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.
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