Title: Helmet Mask (mukenga)
Date: 20th century
Artist: Unidentified Kuba artist
Medium: cloth, cowrie shells, glass beads, iron, feathers, palm fiber, wood, cane
19 11/16 x 11 13/16 in. (50 x 30 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Morton D. May
Object Number: 289:1982
Place associated: Kasaï province, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Current Location: On View, Gallery 117
With its abundant cowrie shells and symbolic elephant’s trunk, this mask is the most important of the Kuba royal masks and emphasizes the wealth and power of the "nyeem" (king). Cowrie shells, imported via the Indian Ocean to the Kasai River region of central Africa, were used as a currency often in exchange for ivory. As a principal commodity of the transatlantic trade, ivory was strictly controlled by the "nyeem." Additionally, the strength and majesty of
an elephant represent ideal characteristics for a king to embody. This type of mask was often performed with two other royal masks representing the Kuba Kingdom’s mythological founding ancestors and the fundamental roles of the "nyeem," women, and commoners in society.

Publication History
Title: Art: A Comparative Study
Author: Jed Jackson
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