Ngobudi Mask David Norden

The customs of the Congo are quite different from those of Nigeria there is no direct relation between the Yoruba and Yombe. Ngobudi is the name of the diviner’s Mask . Once he wears the mask the powers of the diviner are active. A nganga is a soothsayer or traditional healer. The diviner can explain the past and give advice about the future. Nganga masks are owned by the healer or diviner.

The Yombe don’t have the traditions, like the Yoruba that are more related to the Voodoo…and Congo is difficult to explain there are so many different tribes. But the main activities are about the passage to adulthood, honoring ancestors and telling the old stories when they are royal kingdoms. In Nigeria like Benin brass pieces are more to tell and illustrate the conquest of the kingdom and decorate their palace.

In the past a lot of colonials where going to Congo, since it was a Belgian colony. That specific Yombe mask was brought back between 1920-1935 by a Belgian colonial administrator, Fran├žois Restiau, Mons. He was working for the railroad company in Congo. He found that mask in Congo when the “Ocean Railway” was built between 1921 and 1934. It is a bit of a sad story when you know that to build the railway from Pointe-Noire to Brazzaville between 15,000 and 20,000 Africans died. Today the Yombe people has a small population of 15,000 and the culture is still active, but it’s not exactly the same as 100 years ago.

I have been dealing African art since 1993, before I was a professional photographer. I am specialized in African art coming from old collections mainly, so I do not import my pieces directly from Africa. My mother Nadya Levi was a sculptor and she collected African Art. My father Herman Norden was an antique dealer, and he had a room with African Art in his house. The African Art world is quite small I guess there are less than 200 serious specialized dealers in this field in the world. It is not so easy, because there are a lot of fakes that have been produced, some of them very well done, and you need to have seen a lot of pieces to be able to tell the differences.

written by David Norden

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