Biombo People


Biombo / Bashibiombo / Bena Biombo

The Biombo or Bena Biombo tribe live south of the inter-section of the Luala and Kasai rivers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

They have a population of about 5,000. They claim to be of Kuba origin and share the same cultural heritage with the Bushoong, which is one of their neighbouring people, and with other related groups. Just as the Kuba, the Biombo were exposed to the Eastern Pende influence for a long time. The biombo people believed in nature spirit and their economy was mainly farming and trading.

The Biombo tribe generally uses warm colours to decorate the masks. Each of the warm colours used for the mask represent different things. Red represents energy, danger, passion, revolution and power, yellow represents energy, happiness and creativity, orange represents determination, success and encouragement, and finally brown represents the earth and outdoors.


The Biombo Masks

The Biombo are best known for their distinct masks and although masks similar to this have been used in other religions and for other ceremonial purposes, today the masks are used for entertainment and masquerades.

The characters in the rituals can be two different archetypes: emotion and reason. The reason character takes action and makes decision on the base of logic, while the emotion character responds to everything with its feelings and without thinking it through.

Biombo People

These masks were used at funerals and during young boy’s initiation and other rituals and ceremonies. The mask represents females and males and can play several characters.

The biombo masks are most commonly worn during the biombo tribe’s rituals and ceremonies. During these rituals the biombo people dance and use lot of different movements and efforts. The most common efforts that are used during the rituals and ceremonies dancing is pressing and slashing. The pressing is used a lot in their dancing as they hop from foot to foot and stomp their feet and the slashing is also often used in their dancing as they make slashing movements with their hands while dancing. Pressing is a direct, heavy and sustained effort and slashing is an indirect, heavy and sudden effort. So overall the two efforts that are mainly associated with the biombo mask are slashing and pressing.

The facial expression of the mask has been interpreted as many different things, one of the facial expressions it has been interpreted as is peacefulness. The reasoning for this is that the oval shape and the warm colours of the mask symbolize peace. The facial expression has also been interpreted as innocence since the eyes are only half shut and the eyebrows are shaped downwards.

Most of the biombo masks have a similar shape, which is an oval shape. Oval shape is said to be the most peaceful shape out of all of them. In the biombo mask the oval shape symbolizes two things; balance and gentleness.

Although their masks show both Pende and Kuba influences, they had a very unique style, which was distinct from that of their neighbours and are worn during tribal rituals and ceremonies. The rounded and bulging mouth is a feature that many Biombo masks, which come in both helmet and face forms, have.

The biombo masks are usually carved from wood and coloured with red “tukula” powder, which is dye made from the camwood tree. The eyes of the biombo masks are usually a coffee bean shape and a triangular checkerboard is used to decorate the eyebrows and planes of the face. The three shapes placed at the back of the biombo mask represents the biombo hairstyle, feathers are often attached to the top of the biombo masks.