Important Bembe (Nyindu) Mask, DR Congo Middle of the 20th Century

Lega or Bembe ?

Lega (Ulega) is the name given by the Bunyoro (Uganda) to the peoples living in the west of the Ruwenzori mountains. The Lega settlement in the Maniema region is the result of many years of war against local inhabitants, and also on the road to reach this region.

This settlement is characterized by a division of the Lega group, in creating subgroups and in alliance with other groups forming new clans (Bembe, Nyindu…).


Great dance masks and our mask

We observed Lega masks and those from Bembe art, because of several similtudes between the two cultures. Counter to little masks, great masks are worn behind the face. Biebuyck made a classification of Lega masks : (1) lukwakongo (from the yananio grade), (2) kayamba, (3) idimu (it belongs to a kindi initiated manà, (4) mumina (it appears in kindi initiation and belongs to a lineage and has an educative role) and (5) lukungu (it belongs to a kindi initiated man, and this mask is exposed with muminia mask during rituals).

Our mask presents a large open mouth and almond eyes. Those two elements do not seem to be a Lega characteristics for great masks. Otherwise, Kumu/Komo [1] masks have large openings for the eyes and the mouth, but too big and geometrical [2], even if the eyebrow and the ridge of the nose are similarly drawn. The shape of the mask is more ovale for our mask than the Kumu/Komo mask. Our mask has some pigment traces around the eyes and the mouth (kaolin) and also on cheks (red pigments). All around the face, feathers and monkey hair give a strong presence to this work.


Former collection Ulrich Klever, Germany


Ulrich Klever in der Fernsehsendung Die Drehscheibe

Ulrich Klever (1922-1990) is a German author and journalist. He wrote Bruckmann’s Handbuch der Afrikanischen kunst (Bruchmann’s book of African art), published in Munich in 1975. He also collaborated in Ibeji with Gert and Mareidi Stoll, published in Munich in 1980.

Ulrich Klever aquired this mask from Boris Kegel Konietzko in 1968.

[1] They are not so far (Kisangani region) from Lega people and they have some historical links (as mentioned at the beinning of the paper).
[2] As seen in Felix (1989), Komo mask (n° 251).




Coryse Mwape Dolin
Art Historian, African Arts


Marie-Louise Bastin.- Introduction aux Arts d’Afrique Noire. Arnouville, Arts d’Afrique Noire, 1984. p. 298-301.
Daniel Biebuyck.- The arts of Zaire. 2 vol. Berckeley, Los Angeles, California University Press, 1986.
Marc Léo Félix.- Maniema. An essay on the distribution of the symbols and myths as depicted in the masks of Greater Maniema. Munich, Verlag Fred Jahn, 1989.
Tom Phillips (ed.)Africa. The Art of a continent. Münich/New York, Prestel, 1995.
Utotombo. L’art d’Afrique noire dans les collections privées belges. Bruxelles, Palais des Beaux-Arts, 1988.

Map, T. Phillips 1995, 230.
Ulrich Klever Photo –