Kwele people

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horned mask of pigmented wood, Musée du quai Branly, Paris

The Kwele people are a tribal group of eastern Gabon, Republic of the Congo, and Cameroons in West Africa. They fled the coastal area of West Africa during the 19th century, after their traditional enemies acquired firearms from the slave traders. This altercation is often called the "Poupou" war.[1] The Kwele then settled into lands between the Dja and Ivindo rivers. The Kwele are noted for their ceremonial masks which are collected as art objects.[2][3][4][5]

The masks are associated with the Beete association, which maintains social order, and are also used in initiation rites and at the end of mourning periods. Thought to represent benevolent forest spirits, the masks represent people or animals, or a combination of the two. Many lack eye slits; the masks are shown rather than worn, and many are painted with white kaolin earth, which the Kwele associate with light and clarity.[5]

In the beete ritual which they perform, there is a gorilla masked person (gabon) as the opposition to the Ekuk mask.

Although they fashioned objects in iron, it is above all through their sculptures, masks, and anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, and even anthropozoomorphic statuettes that they gained their fame. Their masks are recognized by their great simplicity, in a concentrated and analytical expression.

— François Neyt, "The masks of the Kwele people"[6]
  • "Kwele Information".
  • For spirits and kings: African art from the Paul and Ruth Tishman collection, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries (fully available online as PDF), which contains material on the Kwele people


  1. ^ Deschamps, Hubert Jules (1962). Traditions orales et archives au Gabon: contribution à l'ethno-histoiren (in French). Paris: Berger-Levrault. pp. 66–67, 75. OCLC 3757944.
  2. ^ Perrois, Louis (2001). "Art of the Kwele of Equatorial Africa: ancestor masks, bush spirit masks". World of Tribal Arts / Le Monde de l'Art Tribal. 6 (4): 80–113. Archived from the original on 1 December 2010.
  3. ^ Hackett, Rosalind I. J. (1996). Art and Religion in Africa. London: Cassell. pp. 128–129. ISBN 978-0-304-33752-1.
  4. ^ Stachelhaus, Thomas (2005). Gabon: Tribal Art (in German). Heidelberg: Schulte Weiss. pp. 46–48. ISBN 978-3-00-017048-5.
  5. ^ a b Hahner-Herzog, Iris; Kecskési, Maria; Vajda, László (1998). African masks from the Barbier-Mueller Collection, Geneva. Munich: Prestel. ISBN 978-3-7913-1806-6., plates 69–71
  6. ^ Neyt, François (2010). "The masks of the Kwele people, northeastern Gabon and Congo-Brazzaville". Congo River: Arts of Central Africa (PDF). Musée du Quai Branly.