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A photo of a Kuba masquerade mask depicting the figure out Woot from Kuba mythology.

August – Week 4 – Kuba Mythology

It’s the final week of this month’s deep dive, and as promised, I spent most of this week reading about Kuba mythology. I wanted to better understand the characters and figures represented by the various Kuba masquerade masks, and I wanted to read the stories that inspire the dances themselves. I wouldn’t exactly say information on Kuba mythology was abundant and plentiful. But I was able to read some of the founding stories.

Stories like that of Mbombo, the sky God and God of creation, who in the beginning, lived alone and in darkness. Mbombo was ill for millions of years as a result of his loneliness, so one day he vomited up the sun, moon, stars, animals, and the first humans. Together with the earth mother, Mbombo had nine sons, all of whom helped him finish the creation of our world and all life within it. What’s interesting about Kuba mythology is that once the creation was complete, Mbombo delivered the world to mankind and retreated to the heavens. This is why Mbombo is not formally worshipped among the Kuba, but instead is a figure of recognition, respect, and admiration. He is also revered for giving Kuba its rich oral history, kinship, and sense of community.

Instead of Mbombo, it is Woot who is worshiped in Kuba mythology. Woot is a mythic hero who was the son of Mbombo. He is considered to be a supernatural being who lives among humans, and in fact, was responsible for naming all humans and animals. He had nine sons, the two youngest of which were responsible for bringing evil and death into the world when one killed the other.

Woot is also the origin of the matrilineal society in the Kuba Kingdom. It is said that one day Woot lay on the ground, drunk and naked. His sons all mocked him, but his daughter covered him up and took care of him. For this act of kindness, he rewarded her by declaring that only her children would be able to inherit. He also punished his sons by declaring that all boys would have to undergo initiation rituals going forward. Which brings us back to Kuba masquerade.

For the past month, I’ve been reading about Kuba masquerade, the masks involved, the stories behind the dances, and the significance of the rituals in Kuba society. And it’s been absolutely fascinating. But I still haven’t seen a Kuba masquerade. And that’s okay. I knew going into this topic that I was doing a deep dive on something that while culturally significant and artistically beautiful, is not meant for mass consumption. It’s not entertainment. It’s an important cultural tradition, and should be respected as such.

However, I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t delighted when a short video of a Kuba masquerade came across my dash this past week. It was extraordinary to finally see a snippet of what I’ve been reading about all month. It was even more extraordinary to watch it with all of the knowledge I’ve since gained. To know the meaning and stories behind the masks. To understand the significance of the dances and the rich culture behind them. I certainly don’t know everything about Kuba masquerade. Far from it. But I’ve enriched my knowledge considerably, and that’s what The Daily Hart is all about.

That’s it for this month! I’ll be back next month with a new topic and another deep dive. Until then, happy Sunday!

Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!