TRIBAL AFRICAN ART

KWELE (BAKWELE)

The Kwele occupy a great forest region on the borders of Gabon, Cameroon and the Republic of Congo. Their village communities comprised a number of lineages and were governed in the usual way for "headless" equatorial societies, that is in a diffuse and more or less informal manner. To reinforce unity, the Kwele have the beete cult. The beete ritual, which lasted for a week, would open with the departure of men into the forest to hunt antelope, whose flesh, seasoned with medicines, had to be eaten at a meal at the closing ceremony. During the hunt, women and children stayed in the village; after one or two days, ekuk masks would “leave” the forest, enter the village, and invite the people to come dance and sing. Ekuk means both “protective forest spirit” and “children of beete.” It displays a flat surface and often has a heart-shaped face, a triangular nose, coffee-bean eyes and small or non-existent mouth. The mask represents the antelope. The faces are usually painted in white kaolin earth, a pigment associated by the Kwele with light and clarity, the two essential factors in the fight against evil. Later another mask, the gon (gorilla), announced by bells, would make its entrance; the women would immediately lock up all the domestic animals inside the huts; everyone would begin looking for shelter. Gon is a dangerous mask. The wearer of the gon mask is nude – as opposed to the person dressed in the ekuk, who wears a wide skirt of fibers. The gon mask is made in the image of a skull of a gorilla, an animal feared by the Kwele because of its frequent destruction of their crops. The masks are hung in Kwele houses and also worn during dances related to initiation ceremonies of the beete cult. Their function was to "warm up" the village atmosphere in order to activate the beneficial forces. Some other masks have obvious animal or bird attributes and bear their names; others are enigmatic in their identity. Stylized sculptures with similar facial features are also produced. Inside the Kwele huts sculpted plaques can be found.

852kwele.jpg (25586 bytes)

A538kwele.jpg (24772 bytes)

kwele.mask.jpg (26098 bytes) 575kwele.jpg (24753 bytes) A275kwele.jpg (27892 bytes)
A439kwele.jpg (35136 bytes) A564kwele.jpg (28369 bytes) A438kwele.jpg (29348 bytes)

899kwele.jpg (25659 bytes)

A291kwele.jpg (27207 bytes)

A583kwele.jpg (31782 bytes) 962kwele.jpg (14206 bytes)

910kwele.jpg (16126 bytes)

883kwele.jpg (26969 bytes)