In southeast DRC, the 80,000 Hemba people inhabit vast plains surrounded by high hills and bordered by streams, rocks, and marshes. They are primarily subsistence agriculturalists whose main staples include manioc, maize, peanuts, beans and yams. The mwisi wa so'o mask is used in So'o, a semi-secret society. It represents a strange were-chimpanzee, partaking of characteristics of both the animal and the human order, but really being of neither. The wide, grimacing mouth is regarded as horribly strange. High raised brows, forming a counter curve to that of the mouth, are associated with wildness and craziness. The entire configuration of the mask, worn with a wig and beard of white and black monkey hair, suggests an untamed, uncontrolled presence. So'ois like a spirit of the deceased, not yet installed in the world of the dead, no longer part of the world of the living. The masked dancer conjures up the chaotic, terrifying hereafter when he appears at funeral ceremonies and commemorations dressed in animal skins and bark, and performs his wild, unbridled dances, causing the people to flee in horror.
From the Raskin Private Collection