Collection MRAC Tervuren, photo JM Vandyck, CC-BY 4.0

King Filip returns priceless mask to Congo

During his visit to Congo King Filip is returning a priceless Kakuungu mask.  The rare artefact that could be admired in Belgium’s AfricaMuseum until recently will be handed over in the presence of PM Tshisekedi.  It’s hoped the return of the mask after seven decades will form the start of stronger scientific co-operation with Congo. 

The mask was made by the Suku people of south western Congo. Only few specimens survive in the whole world. The mask is a giant mask and stands 1.6 metres tall.  It resembles a human face and is kitted out with raffia hair.  The thick cheeks and prominent chin are intended to embosom fear in anybody who sees it.

The mask was used during rituals including male circumcision marking a boy’s transition to manhood.

Belgian scientist Albert Maesen bought the mask in 1954 for 215 francs. During an anthropological trip to the then colony Maesen collected 8,400 artefacts that ended up in the AfricaMuseum.

The mask is being given to Congo as part of a long-term loan as under present legislation there is no legal basis from items from the federal collection to be donated.

Kakuungu masker- (DIA): EO.1953.74.4158, collection MRAC Tervuren, CC-BY 4.0
Nicolas Maeterlinck

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