LELE (LEELE, BASHILELE) (also see related Kuba)

The 20,000 to 30,000 Lele people occupy the western region of the Kuba kingdom.  The men work in the forest, where they hunt in groups, locate medicinal plants, cut wood, sculpt, and communicate with the spirits. The women are in charge of the food crops and of fishing in the marshes; feeding the village is their responsibility. The sculptor hunts, extracts palm wine, and participates in daily assemblies.

The art of the Lele is not well known. It is similar to Kuba styles with the exception of its masks, which generally have a flattened shape. The most important forms of Lele art are carved drums, divination instruments, boxes, pipes, and palm wine cups. Lele carvers also produce statuettes and ritual face masks. The masks often have slit eyes surrounded by multiple lines. The masks are generally rare, and their functions are little known. They are thought to have appeared in dances accompanying the burial rites of chiefs and in annual foundation/creation ceremonies. Although the art of the Lele borrows many elements from the Kuba and Dengese in particular, the hairdo and long braids of the statuettes distinguish them from any others. The Lele also use different prestige objects. The figures on these objects occasionally have a coiffure with two long plaits down the back.

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