Ngaady a Mwash Costume
The Kuba people of Zaire, Africa, have over twenty different types of ceremonial masks. The three most significant are the royal masks - Mwashamboy, Bwoom, and Ngaady-a-Mwash. The dance performed with the trio of royal masks is based on a mythical story about love and power. The Ngaady-a-Mwash mask shown here, is one of the masks from the royal trinity, which represents a female ancestor and signifies the essential quality of womanhood. She represents the sister and wife of Woot, the founder and royal ancestor of the Kuba Kingdom, who is personified by Mwashamboy. Bwoom is a prince and second rank to his brother Mwashamboy. During a ceremonial dance, Ngaady-a-Mwash is fought over by the two brothers. Mwashamboy fights to keep his royal rank and wife, while Bwoom fights for the power of the throne and for the love of Ngaady-a-Mwash.

The Ngaady-a-Mwash mask is performed in initiation rites, funerals, and royal gatherings, and can only be danced by men. The mask is beautifully carved and decorated with geometric patterns and embroidered with glass beads and cowry shells, a distinguishing quality of the Kuba society. For example, her forehead, temples, and lower face are painted with black and white triangles. This ornamentation is interrupted by bold, diagonal stripes on her cheeks, which represent tears and refer to the hardships of women. The narrow slits on her eyes are carved to permit the dancer to see while performing. The costume is embellished with dark and light colored triangles analogous to the triangular patterns on Ngaady-a-Mwash's face. Also, masked dancers may attach two small conical wooden pieces onto their costume, representing her breasts. Along with the costume gloves and slippers are worn to cover the dancer’s hands and feet because the dancer who wears the Ngaady-a-Mwash mask and costume must be completely covered. In Addition, Ngaady-a-Mwash mask and costume transforms the dancer into a spirit reliving the moving story of love and power between Ngaady-a-Mwash, Bwoom, and Mwashamboy. (AC)

Ngaady-a-Mwash Mask with Costume. Kuba. Late 19th-early 20th century. Wood, raffia, glass beads, paint, cowry shells, dye, string Kuba, Democratic Republic of Congo
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