Adam, Zeus, and Woot

Christian mythology (gasp!) instructs that Eve was formed fully fifteen verses after Adam.[1] At first blush this clearly is a case of the first man-clone relationship, (at best). Greek mythology has a slightly different twist since Hera was the wife and one of three sisters of Zeus.  This background sets the stage for arguably the most fascinating of the African Tribal creation myths, emanating from the Kuba tribe.

Kuba Tribe - Royal Masqueraders

The main characters are represented in the foreground (from left to right), Ngaady a Mwaash (NaM), Bwoom, and mwaash aMbooy (MsB)[2].  To make a long story short they were all siblings, and Mweel (the NaM mask) was married to Woot (the MsB mask), but pursued by Bwoom. Still, unethical missteps aside, the characters are used to represent the fight between royalty and commoner (that would be Bwoom).

E1. Ngaady a Mwaash Mask : Representing Mweel (wife of Woot).

“Ngaady a Mwaash dances with the two other royal masks during the installation of a new king, the initiation of princes, and at the funerals of dignitaries and elders. Their performance celebrates and commemorates the history of the creation of the Kingdom and the story of the founder and cultural hero, Woot.”[2]

E2. mwaash aMbooy and Pwoom Itok (r) Masks

 

The Pwoom Itok (also found among the Kuba-Bushoong, the Shoowa, and the Ngeende) represents a “wise old man” [3] in initiation ceremonies but some literature indicates it was also used in the apprehension of criminals. It has the peculiar characteristic of holes around a conical pupil, symbolising the eyes of the chameleon (all seeing).

E3. Kuba women finishing woven mats

The Kuba are also world renown for their embroidery which is “of a high quality in both design and technical achievement” [4]. What is interesting is the use of similar motifs and patterns on the masks, particulary the Pwoom Itok and the Ngaady a Mwaash, and subtle parallels in religious, and cultural norms.


[1] The Holy Bible, (King James Version), Genesis 2.v7

[2] http://www.africadirect.com/productsdesc.php?ID=38532

[3]African Art, A century at the Brooklyn museum, p244

[4]African Design, M. Trowell, p30

[E1..3] Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National museum of African Art.

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