By its name alone, you get the impression of something powerful. Pwoom itok! With characteristic cone-shaped eyes with holes around the sides, colourful decorations, a crown of feathers, and a slightly anticipating facial expression, the mask is meant to be worn by a dancer, resembling an old, wise man, ready to answer any question of life – big and small.
What would you ask him?
To the Kuba people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there is great value and power in the wisdom that comes with age, and thus they show their elderly the same great respect as they do their deceased ancestors. The use of the pwoom itok mask is an acknowledgement of the wisdom of the oldest generations, that can be passed along to younger generations through ceremonial dance acts. The mask is commonly worn by a dancer at boys’ initiation rites and at burial sites.
As such, the pwoom itok mask plays a consulting role to the Kuba people, and in itself it answers a central question to the tribe – must you be dead to inhabit ancestral powers?
The mask is currently open for consultancy in the exhibition The Lives of the Dead at Moesgaard Museum.
// Ciara Coogan
Photo: © 2014 Jacob Due, Photo/Media Department of Moesgaard Museum.
Byline portrait: © 2015 Line Beck, lbmfotografi.wix.com