The kifwebe mask (plural bifwebe) is made by both the Luba and the Songye cultures of Central Africa. Interestingly, the Luba claim that this was originally a Songye mask, while the Songye claim that the Luba were the first to create the kifwebe mask. Some scholars believe that these cultures each defer to the other in order to create an allure of strangeness for the masks.
Traditionally, bifwebe masks were created and worn by the secret masking societies of the Luba and the Songye; they were danced in male-female pairs that represent spirits connecting this world with the spirit world. These masquerades were performed at rites associated with funerals and initiations, serving to rid the community of evil presences. Today bifwebe masks are made for public masquerade performances, often with just one female mask and up to eight male masks.
Bifwebe masks take two forms: a round or oval, hemispherical mask with concentric oval carved lines radiating from the mouth, or an oblong mask with hooded eyes and a round mouth with a squarish cut-out. Among the Luba, the hemispherical masks represent the female spirits, while the elongated masks represent the male spirits. Among the Songye, however, either of these mask shapes could be male or female; instead, gender was determined by color: female masks were painted white, while male masks use three colors of striations and incorporate a strong use of red. Songye male masks also often have a tall crest rising up from the nose bridge and more exaggerated features. This kifwebe mask most likely represents a female spirit, as not only is it hemispherical, but it also shows scant remains of white pigment residue in the surface carving.
For more information, you may contact the researcher(s) noted in the title of this exhibit entry, or Dr. Billie Follensbee, the professor of the course, at BillieFollensbee@MissouriState.edu