Salampasu, Rare Mukinka Figure with Mask - Shaba/Zaire, early 20th Century

An exceptional and rare Masked Salampasu Figure, in the style of the Mukinka - (Chief), in ceremonial costume!

The first purpose of the tribally used Mask was to act as a temporary dwelling place for a Spirit. Traditionally these Masks played (and still do) a dominant role in Funerary, Circumcism, Initiation & other ceremonial celebrations. Exact use of the figures is unknown, and while fewer figures exist, the Salampasu are famed for these statuary - some, larger than life!

About the Mask: Specific masks created for various ceremonies are divided into 3 distinct groups and worn by members of the Mungongo (Warrior Society) - a male only hierarchical organization. The group is made up of the Hunters whose masks are made of fiber or twine, the Kasangu (Warriors) which generally are smaller masks made of wood, and most importantly, the Mukinka (Chief) whose wooden masks are polychrome, larger & decorated with headdress. Rare & prized examples of Mukinka masks are encased in wonderful copper stripping. A member's place within the society is earned by performance of tasks and deeds. Once established, they were allowed to "buy" masks within their place in the hierarchy. Acquiring many masks built a member's wealth, as with acquisition, the buyer also acquired the knowledge and spirit of that mask! Many were carved and fine, early examples are available. By comparison, there were far fewer figures carved and these naturally are highly collectible.

Recognizable style elements are, beginning with the headdress - fiber & double split woven rattan spheres representing the hairdo. Typical facial features - an extremely convex forehead shadowing the eye line, rectangular eyes, a triangular or sometimes globular nose, an open mouth showing sharp, fearless & intimidating teeth and an elongated chin. Raffia strands or 1 to 3 more cane balls hang from the chin representing a beard on male masks. Our example shows an empty hole where these were likely attached.

Living mostly by hunting (even today) strong, lean bodies are also male Salampasu characteristics. Our figure typifies these features with shoulders strong and thrusting forward, muscular arms wearing braided bands, hands are detailed & large. A muscular upper body is well defined. Beneath a skirt of raffia and feathers, our example reveals the life-like features of the circumcised Salampasu Male. Legs are bent, feet firm to the ground, broad and flat. Height 23", self-standing.

The Salampasu live in a small region on the borders of Congo DRC (formerly Zaire) & Angola. A highly stratified society with initiations & ceremonies playing a vital role in maintaining their society. A people with a reputation as fearless warriors, they have retained their customs of a rough and primitive lifestyle - even today. Warring and hunting are privileged occupations among the men, although more recently, the women have come to do some farming.

MATERIALS: Blackened wood, polychrome, raffia, wicker, double-split cane, feathers.

CONDITION & PROVENANCE: Exhibits a fine patina, superb detailed carving from one piece of wood with the elongated portion of the jaw attached separately. Shows good wear. Costume complete, in fine condition. Beard missing. A wood split at the front of the base. Difficult to know age of conception but it was likely early 20th century. This tribally used statuary was acquired in the late 1940's by way of a "Trade" between a Tribal Chief & a young European Art Restorer, (later to amass a large collection of fine Tribal & Primitive Works). Later purchased from his Estate for a Private Gallery Collection in the 1980's.

Item ID: R271

$7,000 USD

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Exceptional Vintage

Sandy Wolson, Toronto, ON, Canada   

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