20th Century African helmet mask from the Kuba tribe in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The mask is carved in wood, the lips and bulging forehead are sheathed in copper, and the cheeks and area around the mouth have a cross-hatched geometric design which is painted in black. Cowrie shells decorate the hair and beard, glass beads adorn the back of the head, lizard or snake skin is on top of the mask, and a monkey tail droops down from the chin. Apparently the mask was brought to the U.S. in the 1960’s. This monumental helmet is also called a Bwoom mask and was used at initiations and other ceremonies related to the founding of the Kuba kingdom. The Kuba Kingdom flourished between the 17th and 19th centuries in Central Africa, in the southeast part of modern-day Democratic Republic of the Congo.Bwoom masks are the oldest type of mask in the Kuba kingdom. It’s believed the masks were introduced in the 17th century by King Miko miMbul. According to tradition, he received the masks from the Cwa or Twa, a pygmy people who were part of the Kuba kingdom. Bwoom masks represented Ngeesh, a spirit who controlled fertility. In Kuba mythology, Ngeesh quarreled with his brother, Mwaash A Mboy, for power over his wife and sister. Bwoom masks were also used in boys’ initiation rites, but appeared at funerals, as well.Bwoom masks varied throughout the Kuba kingdom, but all had similar features. They had protruding foreheads, which some people say reflected the pygmy cultures where the masks originated. The bulging foreheads were also said to be representations of King Miko miMbul’s son, who suffered from hydrocephalus. Each mask contained a large brow ridge, which cast a shadow and made it difficult to see, and wearers were often forced to look out through the nostrils to see where they were going. The masks included cowry shells and glass beads, too, which indicated that trading took place between Kuba villages and European merchants.See page 10 in Tribal Art by Judith Miller, 2006 for a picture and description of a helmet mask. The mask is 13 1/2 in. high, 9 1/2 in. wide, and 14 inches from the chin to the back of the mask.