TITLE: Galoa Hunting Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Gabon
ETHNICITY: Galoa
DESCRIPTION: Hunting Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Spirit Invocation
AGE: ca. 1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: raffia; kaolin; pigment

Not much is known about the Galoa people of Gabon. They are a small group of primarily agricultural and fishing people, although in the past they hunted elephants, antelopes, boars, and small monkeys. Hunting masks such as this one were worn in ceremonies simulating hunting to invoke helpful spirits that ensure a good hunt.

Other Galoa masks, generally rectangular in shape with triangular motifs, are used to celebrate the births of twins or at funerals of important persons.

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TITLE: Mahongwe Bwete Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Gabon
ETHNICITY: Bakota (Mahongwe)
DESCRIPTION: Bwete Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Adult Initiation; Funeral
AGE: late 20th century
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin clay

The Mahongwe people are a small subgroup belonging to the Bakota ethnic group and inhabit the northeastern part of Gabon on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their animistic religion, bwete, is based on ancestor worship. Their masks are very rare, but they are believed to play a role in funerary rituals and adult initiation ceremonies.

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TITLE: Fang Ngil Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Gabon
ETHNICITY: Fang
DESCRIPTION: Ngil Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Purification; Secret Society; Social Control
AGE: late 20th century
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin clay

The Fang people inhabit Equatorial Guinea, northern Gabon and Cameroon and are divided between followers of their traditional animist  religion, byeri, and the Catholicism of their French colonizers. The Ngil Secret Society is responsible for social control by assembling in the night to punish sorcerers and purify the village of evil. The Society’s masks are made to resemble the powerful gorilla, and a full suit of raffia fiber is worn to enhance the effect of furriness. This mask is unusual in its relatively serene expression and the inclusion of a second ape atop the head.

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TITLE: Kwele Ekuk
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Gabon
ETHNICITY: Kwele
DESCRIPTION: Ekuk Plank Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Be’ete Society
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Funeral; Protection; Spirit Invocation
AGE: 2015
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin clay

The Kwele, also known as Kwese, people of Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo now live between the Dja and Ivindo rivers. Social control is exercised by the Be’ete (or Bwete) Secret Society, which uses masks to adult initiation rituals, funerals, and protection of the village from malicious spirits.  The masks embody protective bush spirits, with the antelope a dominant presence among them.  Kaolin clay is nearly always used in Kwele masks, because its white color has spiritual meaning to the Kwele.

This specific mask represents an ekuk, or forest spirit.

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TITLE: Punu Mukudj
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Gabon
ETHNICITY: Punu
DESCRIPTION: Mwiri Society Mukudj Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Mwiri Society
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Funeral; Secret Society; Spirit Invocation
AGE: ca. 1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin clay; pigment

The Punu people of Gabon and Republic of Congo live in small villages, mainly along the Ogowe River Basin. They are a matrilineal people organized into hereditary chiefdoms. Like most of the peoples of central and northwest Africa, they have animistic religious beliefs.  Within every Punu village is the Mwiri Society, a secret men’s organization whose members alone may craft masks. Masks serve many important functions in Punu society, including social control and purification of evil spirits and witchcraft.  The mukudj mask (also called okuyi, mokoi, ukuyi, mokoi or mbwanda) simultaneously represents an ancestor spirit and an idealized woman. The diamond pattern on the forehead and squares on the temples represent the scarification marks common among Punu women and emphasize the symmetry of the face. The mukudj is danced by male members of the Mwiri Society on very tall stilts at births, funerals, initiation ceremonies for adulthood, and other major social events to invoke the approval of ancestor spirits.

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