The Tabwa practiced fertility dances of couples in which the man wore a buffalo mask. These male masks are less rare. From their neighbors the Luba a man faced mask with buffalo horns is known.
The mask collected in 1976 is very finely incised with realistic details and embellished with inclusions of white shells in eyes and nose. The three lines of scarification of the face respond to the beauty practice of men and women from the Tabwa elites, attested by old photos. The very fine braided pattern of the hairstyle also responds to the fashion of their tribal ritual. Tabwa women used a headrest for sleeping without damaging a new hairstyle.
The feminine characterization of this mask is confirmed by the jewel in the left nostril, an Arab-Indian tradition that came through present-day Tanzania, and by the earrings. By adding the usual practice of a ritual mask, the young woman was hiding her personal beauty within the perfect figure of an ancestor that made her even more desirable. She also had to drink the sap of the medicinal tree that produced the wood of her mask.
This mask whose patina demonstrates a long ritual use will be sold by Christie's in Paris on April 10, lot 91.