TRIBAL AFRICAN ART

PENDE (BAPENDE) (also see related Kuba)

The 500,000 Pende people settled in the region near the Loango and Kasai Rivers. They are mostly farmers, are not governed by a central authority, but pay allegiance to family chiefs, known as Djigo. The tribe members are divided into numerous territorial groups, the two most important being in Kwilu and Kasai.

Even though the society is matrilinear, the sculptor’s profession is transmitted from father to son. The ancestors are honored most especially during the masked celebration held in sanctuaries in the chiefs’ huts or on the edge of the forest. A statue of the chief’s wife sometimes stands atop the roof; it symbolizes fertility and emphasizes the importance of women. The Pende also make ritual or practical objects, such as chairs, stools, commanders’ staffs, miniature masks, flutes, horns, whistles, drums, weapon, adzes, cups, mortars, and divination instrument.

Pende masks are among the most dramatic works of all African art.   All told, about twenty characters and seven “masks of power” appear in ceremonies such as millet-planting celebration or circumcision and initiation ritual, and the ritual of enthronement of a chief. There are two styles: the western one of the Kwilu with its mbuya mask characterized by a somber, gloomy expression, and the Kasai style that is more geometric and colorful. The Kwilu Pende are especially well known for their masks that were originally used for circumcision ceremonies but later became accessories for a type of popular theater. Neck pendants carved by the Kwilu Pende as tiny replicas of masks must be placed among the most exquisite examples of African micro-sculpture. Generally made of ivory, but sometimes of wood, bone, metal, these pendants serve as protective amulets. Kasai masks are decorated with red and black triangles on a sienna background. The minganji, or masks of power, represent the ancestors; the mbuya, or village masks, represent human types, such as the chief, the diviner, the epileptic with a twisted mouth, the madman or man in a trance, the widow, the lover, or the executioner.

Among the major works of eastern (Kasai) Pende are fairly large sculptures intended either to glorify the chief's house or to serve as protective doorposts. The Pende also make ritual or practical objects, such as chairs, stools, commanders' stuffs, flutes, horns, whistles, drums, weapon, adzes, cups, mortars, and divination instruments.  

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