Bene Lulua Mask Congo
Masks of the Bene and Lulua people are well known for the elaborate scarification patterns worked onto the surface of the pieces. These patterns are identified in some instances with symbolic meaning but must equally be viewed as aesthetic embellishments important to the Lulua. Though banned in the late 1880's scarification has reemerged albeit in a much-reduced fashion to again identify the Lulua.
The Lulua, also known as the Luluwa, live in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which produces an enormous number of statues and prestige objects, related both in style and use. The proximity to two huge old kingdoms, the Kuba and the Luba, has influenced almost all the smaller cultures in the region. The Bena Lulua produces some spectacular statues, heavy with their unique and precise scarification patterns. Numbering around 300,000, the Lulua have an interesting hierarchical social structure resembling the caste system in India. They worship ancestors, both real and mythic, whose spirits are thought to inhabit the rocks and the trees. They build shrines to house their effigies, and sometimes employ the smoking of hemp in ceremonies to honor them. Their art is somewhat scarce, with statues far more common than masks. The smallest of their figures, carved with bent legs and hands to the cheeks, are thought to represent the burial position used for village leaders.
Lulua art is highly valued and considered a form of prestige and wealth. It is believed to have protective and spiritual powers, connecting the living with their ancestors and the spirit world. The sculptures are often placed in shrines or used in ceremonial practices to honor and communicate with ancestral spirits. Hemp-smoking ceremonies may also be conducted as part of these rituals.
The Lulua people have been influenced by neighboring kingdoms, such as the Kuba and Luba, and their artistic traditions reflect these cultural interactions. While statues are more common in Lulua art, masks are relatively scarce. The production of these sculptures, with their intricate details and cultural symbolism, demonstrates the artistic mastery and spiritual significance within Lulua society.