Helmet Mask

Artist Unidentified

Object Place: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lake Tangayi


35.56 x 33.02 cm (14 x 13 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Wood, pigments

Not On View


Africa and Oceania



The Bembe, Buyu, and Lega share traditions as hunters, as well as socio-religious associations such as the Bwami grade society. Initiations in the male Alunga association were marked by the appearance of a masquerader in a spherical helmet mask of abstract conception. Carved from a single block of wood, the Janus faces are defined by huge concave pairs of whitened oval eyes with black, starlike pupils. Decorated with plumes, feathers, and raffia, these evoke the powerful spirit of the forest and are kept apart from the village women and children.


April, 1976, sold by Jean Bonvin, Burundi, to William and Bertha Teel, Marblehead, MA; 1992, partial gift of William and Bertha Teel to the MFA; 2014, acquired fully with the bequest of William Teel to the MFA. (Accession Dates: June 30, 1992 and February 26, 2014)

Credit Line

Gift of William E. and Bertha L. Teel