Songye people

Songye / Songe

Songye / Songe

The Songye people, sometimes written Songe, are a Bantu ethnic group from the central Democratic Republic of the Congo. They inhabit a vast territory between the Sankuru and Lubilash rivers west and the Lualaba River in the east, a vast group of villages can be found in present-day East Kasai province, parts of Katanga and Kivu Province. The people of Songye are divided into thirty-four conglomerate societies, each society is led by a single chief with Judiciary Council of elders and nobles (bilolo). Smaller kingdoms east of the Lomami River refer to themselves as Songye, other kingdoms in the west, refer to themselves as Kalebwe, Eki, Ilande, Bala, Chofwe, Sanga and Tempa. As a society, the people of Songye are mainly known as a farming community, they do, however, take part in hunting and trading with other neighboring communities.

Songye are related to the Luba People , Nyakyusa People , Kasai People , Sungu People and Binji People . They grow crops such as maize , sorghum , rice , yam , cassava and other crops also there are numerous mask styles associated with the Songye . The Power Objects and objects associated with divination many of their objects have been misattributed to Luba and Vice versa . Songye is made of 35 subgroups that forms the Songye ethnic groups and traditionally they rely mostly on farming for subsistence .

Songye mask

It is believed the rivers are associated with the late Chiefs who passed away , fishing was not practiced except on some occasions and the artistic wares of the Songye , Include pottery created or made by women , metalworking done by men were traded extensively with their neighbors . They were recognized as a Unique craftsmen , and their products were in great demand.

In Songye Culture , The Paramount Chief is known as Yakitenge and It is said Yakitenge has advisers who are the central power in the Songye territory . It is said many of the Songye were actually quite large , were often spread and they were densely populated . Before the arrival of the French , Buskishi was a dominant educational Society which helped Songye People to control through the use of Kifibwe masks , but It no longer functions to this degree except in the Southeastern part of the regions bordering on Luba territory .


Origins and ancestors

The origin of the Songye begins with its founding ancestors Chimbale and Kongolo and established the Kingdom of Luba. Chimbale and Kongolo played an important role in establishing the foundation of Luba's political empire. After suffering from political dissension, the ancestors of Songye migrated out of the Luba Empire. The Songye honor their ancestors and cultural heroes through a series of different practices and occasions. In Songye culture, it is believed that the chiefs are sacred heirs of their ancestors and of the founding cultural hero. Hunting was an occupation associated with cultural heroes, Chiefs would organize hunting of animals to showcase the power that was embued to him by the cultural hero he was honoring. Blacksmithing was another craft that was associated with their heroes. Their smiths were reputed for their production of arms; their axes were used by Luba, and some were found in the ruins of Khami in Rhodesia.



The people of Songye believe in a supreme being Ele-ife, however, he is not praised as much as ancestral spirits. Ancestral worship is very prevalent within Songye culture, it is believed that the spirit of their ancestors is more accessible to them due to their shared experience of being alive. As a result of this, these spirits have a connection to both the land of the living and the dead and are able to enact their will on the community.


Secret Society: Bwadi bra Kifwebe

Bwadi bra Kifwebe is a secret society of mask men. In the community, these men were known for their use of magic (Buki or Buchi) and sorcery (Masende). Buki and Masende magic differs from witchcraft, these types of magic are inherited and or obtained either by will or unconsciously. Witchcraft, in contrast, can be obtained through initiation and at the appropriate use of magical ingredients. In order to become a member of the Bwadi bra Kifwebe, all applicants must under an initiation process. During this process, initiates must learn and identify a secret esoteric language. They must undergo a radical and violent experience in order to become less fearful of the unknown and learn their roles within the subject to Bwadi bra Kifwebe. Some of the responsible of the Bwadi bra Kifwebe are regulating and maintaining political order and balance between the chief and his communities. The Bwadi bra Kifwebe maintain balance within the community by conducting masquerades, rituals and rites such as initiation rituals, circumcisions and funerals.


The Bwadi bra Kifwebe maintain balance within the community by conducting masquerades.


The overall appearance of a masquerader varies on the dancer, the type of ceremony they're performing in, and spirit being evoked. Normally Masqueraders have a wooden mask and are covered head to toe in flowing black raffia fibers made from the bark or roots of trees. Their arms, bodies and legs are covered with raffia netting, with goat skins fastened around their waist. The dancers are male and the complexity of their costume varies on their status within the community. When the dancer is wearing a male mask his movements are aggressive and unstable, however when a dancer wears a female mask his movements are gentle and controlled. The dances of the kifwebe dancers are meant to encourage social conformity within the community showing its people how one should behave in their society.


Songye mask


Cosmology of a mask. There are two different types of kifwebe masks. The kifwebe masks come in various designs and reference different aspects of nature, culture and cosmology. Kifwebe masks symbolized the spirits of the dead, the underworld and the struggle between good and evil (Community vs antisocial practices and witchcraft), each element of the mask symbolized these aspects in a certain way. the intertwining of the rhythmic colors of red, black and white was meant to symbolize the struggle between good (white) and evil (black and red), the combination of these colors embody the positive and dangerous force held with in the mask. The ruggedness of the mask itself symbolizes the underworld and the spirits escape from it.

Male and Female kifwebe masks. Male Kifwebe masks were mainly used for initiation ceremonies, circumcision, and the enthronement and funerals of the supreme chief. The face of a typical Kifwebe masks is covered with linear incisions, a square protruding mouth and a linear nose set between globular pierced eyes. Male masks typical have a centered crest on the top of the masks and its size varies on the status of the dancer wearing it, elder dances within the Bwadi bra Kifwebe have larger centered crest compared to others. Female Kifwebe masks was typically used for public ceremonies and reproduction rituals. women within the songye community viewed woman as the bearer of children and good fortune. To them, women representation of continuation of life and cultural tradition. The features of the female kifwebe mask was meant to portray these ideas. Typically they share similar characteristics as the male mask however it facial features are more gentle and rounded evoking the tenderness of a mother as well as the power to protect and support her children. The structure of the face is longed, the mask itself is covered in white paint or Kaolin.

Songye mask Songye mask Songye mask Songye mask


Mankishi and the spirits within

Mankishi are spirits of the dead that can influence the world of men. These spirits can be malevolent spirits causing infertility, bad harvests and sickness or benevolent spirits bringing good health and prosperity in the hunt and field. The Songye believe that spirits can be reborn, Benevolent spirits are believed to be reborn by creating a mamkishi power figure, while malevolent spirits (bikudi) are not reborn and are forced to roam the earth for eternity. Not all spirits who are unable to be reborn as a Mankishi are wandering spirits, spirits who are not reborn yet are knowledgeable on their power and knowledge of patrilineage founders, heroic leaders, and lineage chiefs and dignitaries become guardians of the lineage and provide general protection. Mankishi conforms to a certain magico-social standard within the Songye community. Songye figures serves as a protectors of the community, encourages fertility and protects families from evil spirits and practitioners. Nganga or magical practitioners are responsible for commissioning these figures, they decide the dimensions of the figure, sex morphological aspects and type of wood used for the figure.

These Sculptures comes various forms and serves different purposes, Usually Mankishi are depicted as a large stylized sculptures of a standing on a base. In profile, the repetition of strong diagonals in the coiffure, beard forearm and feet are forceful and aesthetically pleasing. The horizontal shoulders arm and legs helps gives the figure a sense of energy and movement. The Stance is meant to signify the mankishi's alertness and readiness to carry out his purpose whether it is protecting its owner from evil spirits or witches and sorcerers. Its head is usually elongated with sharp facial feature such as the eyes, chin, and rectangular nose. Its torso is also elongated yet the center of abdomen is hallowed along with the top of the head so that the Bijimba, a magical substance created by the Nganga, can house the sculpture and bring spiritual power to it. Female figures exist however they are not as common as male Mankishi. Female Mankishi are smaller and they are usually for personal usage. Like its male counterpart, the female Nkishi has a cavity in the abdomen and head to house the Bijimba. The figure itself usually shows signs of scarification on its face and above its face. The legs of the figure are posed in an unusual way and appears to be unfinished, this may suggests that it was covered by sacred objects and was not meant to be shown . When the Mankishi is being used the nganga places shells, horns, animal skins, nails or studs and other spiritual objects outside of the figure to enhance its power and influence. The housing of the Mankishi varies on its size, purpose and importance, larger Mankishi that are created to guard and protect a family or village is housed in a family shine. Smaller more personal Mankishi are usually kept by the owner and are portable.


The Songye Oral History and Historical accounts on Songye of D.R. Congo

According to the Songye Oral History , Songye traced their Origins back to the Luba to the 16th Century and shared one ancestor known as Kongolo, It is believed that the founding forefathers of Songye emerged from the lake region in Present day Shaba Province on the south to the Luba homeland . It is believed Lomani river divided Songye territory and marks the boundary of the areas Invaded by Luba . As a result of the geographical and political differences there emerged of 2 distinct Social Structures among the Eastern and Western Songye which have two stylistic differences in art forms . According to Jean Baptiste and Baqart’s account on Songye People of Dr. Congo , It is said during the late 16th Century, Songye migrated from the Shaba area , which is now Present day Dr. Congo formerly Zaire , and they settled on the left bank of the Lualaba river , on a Savannah and forest -covered plateau . Divided into numerous Sub-groups , 150,000 Songye were governed by a Central Chief which is Yakitenge , whose role demands that they obey special restrictive laws such as not showing grief, not drinking in public . According to Themet ‘s account on Songye People of Dr. Congo , It is claimed Kifwebe dates back to the 19th- mid 20th Century in the Lomami river of Dr. Congo , certain masking traditions of Congo river basin personify a local control of a mystical power Songye live in a region crossed by the river Lomani and delimited to the west by Sankuru river . A group of Songye known as Sapo Sapo settled in the Kasai province in the 19th Century to escape Islamization . Others claimed Songye waged war against their neighboring people later Songye and Luba formed an alliance and fought the Arabs in the 16th Century and they settled in the Southeast of Dr. Congo . According to Dr. Nkamany Kamba a native Songye from Dr. Congo account , The Songye have a history before the Colonial period , and that history is part of the Consciousness of Africa . At the turn of the 19th Century , Europe started paying close attention to the continent of Africa . At the 1885 Berlin Conference , King Leopold ll a King was created and the people living within these new boundaries were subjected to Iron fist to the Belgium Monarch . The Songye People of Dr. Congo were one of many human entities in the Belgium Congo who found their live scrutinized by European Colonial Interest . As such a European Perspective began to describe and explain the lives of the native groups and The Songye people did not escape this scruting and faced many challenges in safeguarding their way of live and Identity . In order to rescue the history and Culture of Songye People , there is needed to do describe and explain their way of life and Identity using on African Perspective . According to Mr. Kalamu account on Songye People of Dr. Congo , the Orchesta “ Basongye” is celebrated on April 3rd deep into the Culture of Congo through rhythms of Songye music it will also might capture the people of Africa through the one song “ Musongye Mukelenge” as a reminder , Songye are believed to be found in the North Katanga , Kasai and Maniema . The Songye also known as Basongye Others believed Songye Identify themselves by a totem pole which is the leopard . This people , because of Its Egyptian Origins , already decently dressed with the port of raffia , Unlike other surrounding people . And Songye Chief had a distinctive outfit made of leopard skin and make -up is the face of the distinguished feathers of his panther , hence the name “ Mukelenge “which means The Leopard . Mr. Kalamu quoted “ The Songye people has been ruling people , and Songye were considered to be the people who invented the first razor blade , Shave , Invented Soap and made pottery . According to some concept , It is believed Mulenege was an Unknown ancestor who it is believed Mulenge spoke a language of Black Egyptians , Kalamu quoted “ We Songye are the descendants of the Black Egyptians “.


Extended information about masks and dancers (from Afrikan Sankofa)

Songye male masks , is known for distinctive exaggerated forms , are also well represented the masks or their elders embody the greatest potential and strength , It is also used for social control , political action , or solicitations of Contributors and protection , they were danced at Important events . Their Power figure Include Nkisi also known as Mankishi used to combat evil forces and sorcery . Nkisi bring good , promote fertility , success, vanquish enemies and protection from evil ones . The Large ones are owned by community , small ones for Individual families adorned with Bajimba properties such as horns , skins, hair , feathers , beads , tacks , cloth , Songye gained power from these and not from a Spiritualist known as Nganga . Songye Shields were used not only as defensive weapons , but also as decorative objects with symbolic meaning . Their Shield are carved from single pieces of wood . The heads on their Shields relate to the masks of warlike , Songye use rattles , drums , bellows , heads and other artifacts . In Songye tradition , Sculptures play a big role and they create a sculptural style of Intense dynamism and Vitality . The works of the Craftsmen are often used within the various secret ceremonies , some of Sculpture are used to ensure their success, goodluck , birth and wealth also to protect people against diseases such as smallpox and against hostile forces as lightning. While the smaller sculptural figures of this type are kept and consulted by Individuals , larger ones were responsible for ensuring community . Kifwebe is one of the mask a grooved pattern on the face of the mask , the white paint in the grooves symbolize peace , light and the purity of the soul. The brown tan and blue symbolize Maama nature as a positive force . The facial elements are associated with animals for example the left oval shaped eyes appear to have the black and white stripes of a Zebra . The nose in most Instances seems to appear triangular and the mouth is always protruding and geometrically shaped , used this type of masks during ceremonies , and at the funeral processions of Important leaders or elders , It is believed when certain Individuals of the Kifwebe Society wear the mask along with the costume, raffia beard which It is said to gain Spiritual powers to cleanse evil forces . Songye are rich in mineral wealth , namely gold , diamonds and oil . According to Songye tribal elders , Unscrupulous “ faceless” men fuel most of the wars , to stake a claim on the rich minerals resources while the country is in a state of anarchy . Another mask Include Buffalo masks with fire , Kifwebe mask represent other society , the buffalo mask also have brown patina with no strips used in a sacred hunting rituals . They also produce prestige , stools, ceremonial axes , made of Iron , Copper , decorated Interlaced patterns , neckrests , bracelets and copper adzes . In addition , It is said local rulers such as Sultanu Ya Mutu , distribute plots of land to the People of the Village and an Influential Secret Society , Bwadi Bwa Kifweba an ancient Ancestors counter balances their power . Unlike their neighbors the Luba and Songye are Patriarchal Society in which agricultural is the center of the Ceremony . The Songye regarded wood figure as merely a shell , activated to the full power only the addition of Bishimba , the Sacred medicine composed of animal , plant , ritual and mineral substance choosen for a properties . Another Objects Include Mfondo mask , Chameleon mask , flute mask, Plant Bayiri mask , Gara or Gra Hook which all of them traced back to the 19th Century to earlier or mid 20th Century.

Their Sculptures are similar to those of the Songye , but with several differences, notably a more evolved realism , a Luluwa Influence , on the forehead the presence of a tattoo similar to the cross of the Tscohwe . According to the African Crafts market narration of the Songye mask. The Songye masks originated from what is now the Northwestern region of Dr. Congo these mask is particular the female Kifwebe or Tsifwebe mask and It is dominated by the large slanting eyes of animals . The Slanting eyes large eyes similar to that African Crocodile . The nose is almost always triangular in shape extending from the forehead and eye brows , while the mouth is always outwards and in a geometrical shape such as Square or rectangular . These Songye masks are used in traditional ceremonies such as weddings , birth ceremony sometimes and funerals, but not anyone is allowed to wear the mask . Certain Individuals are given the authority to be the wearer of the mask and that tribal member will wear the mask along with the costume associated with the ritual or ceremony is being held one of the several Songye Legends asserts one that the high forehead and the form of mask imitate the heads of the so called Pymies the Original custodians of the land . It is believed Songye are an Central African Bantu people living in the Southeastern part of Dr. Congo in the Kabinda district near the Lomani river they are also referred by many names such as Basengele , Songye , Basongye , Basonge , Bayembe , Kisongye , Sengele, Songe , Songhe , Wasonga and Yembe . The Songye Society is made up of 20 Independent Chiefdoms that share a principal of political organization based on the sharing of power , after a few years , the holder of a political Office gives way to his Successor , coming from another Kinship group , so that overtime the different Kinship groups that make up the Chieftaincy each access in turn to power . In Songye Concept , God is known as Elfie , although sacrifices are not made directly to him . It is said Sacrifices are made to their Ancestors as a way through Elfie but the main purpose of it is to encourage the well being of the Individual and the family . It is believed Each Village possess one of these power figures to be brought out during Ceremony . Prayer and Requests would be asked of the figure only positive forces by Elfie and Maama Nature would grant wishes for example the health of a child or a fruitful yield from the crops . The figures are admired with the horn of an Antelope, feathers from birds of prey , and peits from powerful animals . The protective amulets were often placed in the chest of the Sculpture . This piece is considered so powerful , It is lifted by wooden rods to be carried to the center of the village and never touched by the People of the Village .

Songye People of Dr. Congo performed traditional dances such as ToseKinglingala , Mapasa, Tombole , Baakisiimba , Nankasa , Warrior dances , Initiation dance and other different types of Traditional dances furthermore , Songye celebrate festivals such as Songye Kifwebe Mask festival , Kabashilange , Maize festival and other kinds of traditional festivals.