Friday, 5 October 2012

An African Mask

When we were in Spain the other week, we visited the Biopark in Fuengirola.  We went in March, and liked it so much, we decided to go again.  We still like it, but I don't think we'll make a habit of going there.

Walking from our usual car park, though, we happened across a new shop selling African art.  Now I'm silly about African art, so fully expected Jenny to drag me firmly past, but no, she dragged me inside!  Talk about a kid in a toyshop, it was magical!

This small shop was just packed with masks, carvings, votive pieces, spread out so you were at risk of tripping over stuff.  We were entranced!  (I'll not link you to their website as it's not finished.)

To start with, I was confident we would not buy anything, as our luggage was already pretty full, and I wasn't about to pay Easyjet for an extra hold bag, but then I undermined myself, but realising that all I had to do was get the man to mail me whatever I decided to buy.  Resolve?  My resolve lasted about 30 seconds!

I could have bought almost anything in the shop, but in the end settled on this mask.  The man did tell me where it came from, but I've forgotten, so will have to email him.  I've looked through my African Mask books, without success, though I'm betting on somewhere like the Democratic Republic of Congo.   Oh, it's about 40cm high.

Like most of the things in the shop, this seems to me to be a mask made in a village for some specific ritual, bought by the buyer for the shop and shipped back to Spain, rather than something made specifically for the tourist trade.  I was astonished that it was only 120€.

The man reckons that in 20 years time no-one in Africa will be doing carvings like this, because all the young people are migrating to the cities, and no-one is learning how to make the traditional carvings.  I think he's probably exaggerating, but there's still a large grain of truth in what he says.  This stuff will become increasingly rare.

Fortunately, it's still dead cheap, so I can fill our house with as much of it as Jenny will let me buy.  It'll never be worth any money, because it's a bit weird in most Brit's eyes, and even when the supply dries up, the demand will be minute.  And I expect I'll be dead by than, anyway.  Even if I live to 90, I can't see prices rising significantly.

Edit: I had an email from the vendor telling me it's a Kifwebe mask from the Congo, and that fits OK, as I was able to find another one in a similar style on the web.

Edit 2: Looking it up, I find it was made by the Songye people from south-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, for use by their Kifwebe sub-group who used to be some kind of authoritarian figures, controlling social behaviour, neutralising disruptive elements, etc, so a Songye equivalent of a policeman's helmet.  That's if you believe the interweb, of course!

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