Audaciously shaped and highly symbolic, Songye Kifebwe masks are part of the regalia of the powerful Bukishi society. The power of the masks is directed towards issues of social control, justice and the continuity of the established political hierarchy and the dances in which the masks appear are characterized by otherworldly sounds and lively movements.
Kifebwe initiates learn the various hidden names of each part of the mask such as the nose which may be referred to as “the doors to a furnace”. Male and female masks, all worn by men, are distinguished by form and coloration. The male version possesses highly exaggerated features and a prominent crest whereas the female masks are generally white with a low or almost nonexistent crest.
Male masks are known for their distinctive exaggerated forms. Aggressively formed with bulging eyes, projecting mouths and powerful crests, the masks of elders embody the greatest potential and strength. The dynamic forms symbolize the level of power, or grade of the masked figure. Used for social control, political action, or the solicitation of contributions and protection, masks like these were danced at important funerals, visits and investitures. Many of the masks include raffia or full fiber headdresses.