Ceremonial mask "Kasangu"
Salampasu people, Democratic Republic of the Congo/ Angola, 20th century, private collection from Finland.
The Salampasu (called also Asalampasu, Basalampasu or Mpasu), who live south of the Lwalwa and the Mbagani and west of the Lulua River on the frontier between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola, once had a reputation as fierce warriors and headhunters. Like most ethnic groups of Congo, the Salampasu are a Bantu people. Their name means "hunter of locusts" (mpasu means grasshopper). The Salampasu maintain strong commercial and cultural relations with their southern neighbours, the Chokwe and Lunda to whom they pay tribute. The Salampasu live mostly from hunting, but women do some farming.
The Salampasu are homogeneous people governed by territorial chiefs, who supervise village chiefs. The society of warriors (mugongo) is responsible for the protection of Salampasu communities; society members protect against invasion from rival clans or other external forces. Initiations start with ritual (tshikiti) for children from 8-10 years old. On this occasion, before they are circumcised, in a secluded place, the special mask (samandamulama) appears and reveals himself to children as "a dead person emerging from the earth". Boys were initiated into the mugongo through a circumcision camp, and then rose through its ranks by gaining access to a hierarchy of masks. Earning the right to wear (or see) a mask involved performing specific deeds and large payments of livestock, drink and other material goods. Once a man "owned" mask, other "owners" taught this new member particular esoteric knowledge associated with it. Masks of three different types, made of different materials but stylistically quite similar, were also used in the initiation rituals. The three types represent the three grades of male society: the hunters, warriors, and chiefs. The warrior society (ibuku) has the fierce wooden mask (kasangu). Before one obtain the right to wear this mask, one must kill an enemy secretly or in battle. The costume is of knotted raffia cord, fiber strips and skins that form a skirt. At the waist, the masker wears a sword with one monkey tail attached for each man killed. Having aquired the right to wear a kasangu mask, the initiate can now acquire the right to get the muninka mask of the Ibuku society. The mask is wood with copper sheets. Muninka masks are worn during special ceremonies such as funerals and dances (matambu). In the fact, matambu dances are only held for head-hunters. The masks made of plaited raffia fiber (mufuampo) are used by the idangani association. Masks intervene in various life crisis ceremonies from birth to death, they entertain and are active in solution of crises. The Salampasu masks symbolize rank and title within the society and the aim is to aquire as many masks as possible to wear them on diverse occasions.
Aged and fierce kasangu mask. Domed forehead, broad triangular nose and small deeply recessed eyes. The mouth is open, showing pointed teeth (depicting filed initiate teeth). Painted with charcoal, soot or river sediment (black), ochres or camwood (red) and kaolin clay (white). Age-related wear. Signs of ceremonial use. Lovely patina. Size approx. 32,0cm x 20,0cm.
Bogaerts, 1950: 394, 401-2.
African Art Museum/Zyama.com.
University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art.
Cameron, Reclusive Rebels. An approach to the Sala Mpasu and their masks. Mesa College Art Gallery, 1992.