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Video transcript

we're at the National Museum for African art and we're looking at a mask made by the Chokwe people in the Democratic Republic of Congo and this mask would have been danced by a male dancer even though we're looking at a mask that represents an ideal woman the masker who's a man and the Carver who's a man would have made this to honor women particularly women who were young and fertile and had successfully given birth because there was an honor in Chokwe society given to those women and this is also a culture that is matrilineal that is the family line is passed down through the mother and one of the reasons to dance this mask was not only to honor women who were at this stage in life but also to recognize the founding female ancestor of the Chokwe lineage it's made of wood that's very thin and difficult to carve we see fiber and this elaborate hairstyle we have to imagine the rest of the costume that would have been here when the mask was danced and this would have been a tight fitted body stocking covered in raffia cloth the dancers groin area would be covered in a loincloth and he'd be wearing wooden breasts and we're using the word dance but from the descriptions the dancer walked in a very graceful and stately way and chocolate women actually do dance like that though it's very graceful and fluid and slow and respectful and when we say he's wearing a woman's face and he's wearing woman's breasts he's not impersonating a woman he's really not to honor women who have courageously gone through childbirth and retain this inner wisdom and beauty so beautifully articulated in the facial features and we see that sense of calm in the face and the fact that her eyes are closed and her mouth is closed suggests us turning inward she's not talking she doesn't need to talk at this point in life she deserves respect and she doesn't have to open her eyes wide she's already knowing the mask itself is a deep dark red which was probably created through a mixture of red earth and oil but there's white Kaelin or white powder around her eyes and this whiteness is connected to the spiritual realm in fact her eyes are the most important part of the face they're abstractly big and it draws attention to the fact that she has the spiritual ability almost of second sight that her power comes from being able to give birth the face is very symmetrical the chin comes to a narrower point the broadest part of the face is by the eyes and ears this wide forehead that is accentuated by the hairstyle and we have these constant circles that are bisected by the lines of the mouth or the eyes and then we also have the circle of the earring in the ear with this mass was obviously really loved in fact we can see a repair on one side of the face so that they could continue to use it we also have pounded dots around the eyes which further emphasizes their syndra chol nature but also suggests women's tattoo patterns women wore a whole host of different tattoo designs that had special references and special meaning so the trackway people were little known until the earlier part of the 20th century by Europeans Europeans and particularly Portuguese didn't begin trading with the chalk way until the early 1900s and so they weren't documented in such in the way that other groups were however the chalk way had been part of a larger kingdom from which they broke away they had had trading relations with many groups throughout Africa and so they certainly didn't exist in isolation and they're about a million today in the Democratic Republic of Congo and as this mask shows us the ideal woman and ideal virtues her hairstyle would have been fashionable at the time so they could really see themselves in the mask when it was being performed for them so this is an ideal of womanhood in so many ways you
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