TRIBAL AFRICAN ART

WOYO

A small tribe located both in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Cabinda to the north, the Woyo live on the Atlantic Ocean coast, north of the estuary of the Zaire River. As early as the late fifteenth century, their ancient kingdom was known to Europeans as that of the Ngoyo. Little is known about the tribe. The Woyo possess a form of writing that has not yet been studied. A special application of this writing occurs in their “proverb covers,” the lids of their realistically carved wooden “storied pots.” Their sculpture includes masks of the ndunga, a male society whose dances mark particular occasions including installations of tribal elders, funerals, celebrations, or the presence of great danger. The ndunga masks of the Woyo are characterized by their large size. These masks are worn with proportionately voluminous costumes of dried banana leaves that fully cover the dancers’ body. As a general rule, the masks are polychrome; however, some are painted primarily white. Believed to have symbolic meaning, the color is related to the concept of the masks’ power and is sometimes renewed. Their statues often adorned with magical objects called nkissi, have a triangular-shaped jaw and enlarged eyes.      

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