LWALWA Information

Location: Southeastern Congo (Zaire)
Population: 20,000
Language: BuLwalwa (Bantu)
Neighbors: Salampasu, Mbagani, Kete, Lunda, Luba, Chokwe
Types of Art: Some small figures are carved for divination and display on shrines, but the majority of Lwalwa art in collections consists of beautifully sculpted masks, characteristically elongated, with prominent noses, rectangular eyes, and a small hole between the mouth and nose, through which a cord is passed in order to secure the mask on a dancer's face.
History: Lwalwa origins are closely tied to the Kete who live to the north and originally migrated from the area currently located between the Luba and Songye Kingdoms. Before the 17th century the Lwalwa were divided into small matrilineal chiefdoms. Later they became part of the ties established between the Lunda and Luba. However, they always remained independent, refused to pay tribute, and never truly accepted the Lunda chiefs as overseers. Instead the Lwalwa have formed a political union between themselves, the Mbagani, the Salampasu, and the Kete. They have remained relatively isolated from outside influences, due to their location between the Kasai and Lueta rivers, and were virtually cut off from trade routes.
Economy: The land were the Lwalwa live is rich and fertile, lending itself well to the agricultural economy of the people. The women are almost wholly responsible for all that goes into the growing of crops, both for local consumption and for trade. The men do, however, lend a hand during the busy harvest time, so that they can evaluate their household intake for the season. Although hunting by the men provides some occasional supplementary protein, the women provide the majority of the nutritious intake. The hunt, sometimes individual and sometimes communal, still plays an important social role among the Lwalwa. Sculpting is recognized as a prestigious profession and is usually passed on from father to son.
Political Systems: Despite observance of matrilineal descent, Lwalwa children are raised by the father and are considered the property of his family upon the father's death. The leader of the community, who very often is also a carver, inherits his position and lives at the center of the village with all of his nobles. Surrounding him are numerous matriclans who pay homage through their individual family heads. A man may inherit status or gain respect through his hunting prowess. There is no paramount Lwalwa chief, but ties are normally established between neighboring villages, and when important decisions must be made on behalf of all of the Lwalwa, several respected leaders gather in one site to discuss the issues.
Religion: Lwalwa religion entails belief in a supreme god (Mvidie Mukulu) and an omniscient creator (Nzambi). Respect is paid to recently departed ancestors, and offerings are made to various nature spirits who have shrines built in their honor. It is believed that everything has a spirit (mukishi), which can be offended and cause trouble. These spirits must be appeased if balance and order are to be maintained. Both boys and girls go through initiation to become responsible adult members of Lwalwa society, but masks are used only during male Ngongo initiation. Divination using rubbing oracles is practiced to determine events in the past that are currently causing misfortune.
Credit: McIntyre, L. Lee and Christopher D. Roy. 'Art and Life in Africa Online.' 1998: The Art and Life in Africa Project,