Mask (soko muntu)

20th century
Artist Unidentified

Object Place: Democratic Republic of Congo


18.41 cm (7 1/4 in.) h x 5.75 in. w x 2.5 in. d

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


Africa and Oceania, Contemporary Art



Following a long mourning period, Hemba funeral rites marked the settlement of inheritances and the celebration of restored social balance. This mask, of a type known as soko mutu, was worn at such rites on the forehead or waist of a costumed performer. At other times it would be kept in a dwelling as a protective device. The combination of chimpanzee and human features alludes to other parallel and contrasting realms; the civilized and the untamed, the living and the dead. More humanized than many such works, the wide, threatening mouth is here balanced by the curving lines of brows and eyes.


Emile Deletaille (dealer), Brussels. November, 1982, sold by Michael Oliver, Inc., New York 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