This shield was likely a part of ceremonial regalia created by the Songye of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The shield has been broken and repaired, illustrating that it was valued and preserved, but most other wear is the loss of pigment on the surface, suggesting that the shield was not used in battle. The central feature of the shield is a relief in the form of a kifwebe mask, which has many symbolic referents.
Traditional kifwebe masks are characterized by striations on the face that likely represent scarification. Songye female kifwebe masks are mostly white and have striations that are close together, while the male masks are more colorful, often incorporating red designs, and have a large, raised crest along the top. All kifwebe masks are highly symbolic: The striations indicate the path of the dead who await rebirth, the nose represents the tree of life, and the mouth suggests the sorcerer’s fire. Men perform the masquerades of both male and female masks, and the masqueraders are said to be agents of magic or sorcerers who gain supernatural powers through the performance. Female sorcerers are believed to produce more positive magic, however, such as communication with the ancestors, and to bring balance to their world through their magic. For this reason, the female kifwebe masks are more frequently appropriated as symbols on other objects, as on this shield.
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