Lega , Objet art of the ethnic Lega - African-art.net
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Lega

The Lega live in the virgin forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Ex Zaire).

Two main types of mask appear in the ceremonies and rituals of the Lega people:

  • A mask worn on the face, with a heart shaped face, bulging or coffee bean shaped eyes, a thin rectilinear nose and a small mouth placed on the edge of a pointed chin. This mask is often covered in white pigment and used during the initiation rites of the Bwami society.
  • A mask that is worn on the arm and that has the same stylistic characteristics as the precedent mask only smaller. It is used to indicate the level of the initiate inside the Bwami society. As this society is not a secret one its members can visually indicate their grade.

Lega statues are rarely bigger than 30cm and are made from wood or ivory.

The statues are used during initiation rites and act as a reminder of proverbs, instructions, or further still, stories about the ancestors.

Social Organisation of the Lega People

The Lega live in autonomous villages often placed on a hilltop and surrounded by wooden fencing. These villages are made up of two rows of huts with a large oval hut acting as the mens’ meeting house.

The men often lived on the outside and built camps in the forest to welcome those awaiting circumcision.

The chief is both the oldest clan member and the highest ranking in the Bwami society. The chief was aided by an advisor, the master of the earth who acted as arbitrator in the case of quarrels.

The Bwami society is open to men as well as women. It plays a regulatory role in the socio-political life of the Lega. In order to move up the seven male grades and the four female grades of the society, donations must be made and the initiate must participate in initiation rites. Moving up a grade or echelon signifies the acquisition of a certain individual wisdom and morality. Ceremonies to access the highest grade of the society required the building of entire villages in order to house the clan members who were moving up to the next grade, as well as other clans coming to participate in the festivities.

The Lega preserved the skulls of the highest grade initiates in a hut. They did not worship the cult of the genies or spirits of nature like their neighbours the Bembe.

Circumcision was an inevitable stage for entering the Bwami. It was accompanied by the learning of proverbs and also the manipulation of objects that had a moral signification or practical role.

Lega art is linked exclusively to the Bwami society. The objects, used only by the initiates, have a specific role in Lega rites and ceremonies. Objects can be made from wood, bone or ivory.

Economic Resources of the Lega People

The main resources of the Lega people came from fishing, hunting, in particular elephants and some other animals that were considered sacred and which were consumed during ritualistic meals.

The men hunted and cleared the forests and the women cultivated manioc.

 

Lega Masks

Two main types of mask appear in the ceremonies and rituals of the Lega people:

  • A mask worn on the face, with a heart shaped face, bulging or coffee bean shaped eyes, a thin rectilinear nose and a small mouth placed on the edge of a pointed chin. This mask is often covered in white pigment and used during the initiation rites of the Bwami society.
  • A mask that is worn on the arm and that has the same stylistic characteristics as the precedent mask only smaller. It is used to indicate the level of the initiate inside the Bwami society. As this society is not a secret one its members can visually indicate their grade.

These two masks are fixed onto the village fencing during initiation periods.

Finally, there is an ivory mask worn by the member holding the highest grade in the Bwami society.

 

Lega Statues

Lega statues are rarely bigger than 30cm and are made from wood or ivory.

The statues are used during initiation rites and act as a reminder of proverbs, instructions, or moreover stories about the ancestors. For example, a statue with a raised arm signifies that someone is acting in judgement. A statue with several faces signifies the gift of being able to see in two directions at the same time such as the hunter who sees the elephant in front of him, but has the hindsight to turn and call for back up. A snake signifies death.

The zoomorphic statues represent dogs, snakes, frogs…in ivory or made from wood they serve to identify the grade of a Bwami society member.

Before each initiation, the statues were taken out of their bags and coated with oil, hence the orangey colour of those made from ivory.

 

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