March 30, 2016

2421 CONGO-KINSHASA - The Pende people

The Pende or Phende (ethnonym: Bapende or Baphende; singular Mupende or Muphende) are an ethnic group found in the south-western Democratic Republic of the Congo also in the Kasai Occidental province around the diamond mines of Tshikapa. The Pende language is one of the Bantu languages. The approximate 250,000 Pende are mainly farmers who produce millet, maize, plantain, and peanuts. They are governed by family chiefs (djigo) who are sometimes assisted by various nobles.

Much like the Yaka and Suku, Pende are originally from the strip between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cuanza River, in Angola. They relocated to Congo in the beginning of the 17th century, as a consequence of the Lunda's expansion, which also resulted in numerous cultural influences. They are divided into two groups, a western group who live just to the east of the Yaka and an eastern group who live on the western bank of the Kasai River. Although each group is culturally distinct they consider themselves as one people.

The Pende are known for their xylophone-based music, and their dances. On a spirtitual level, the Pende revere their ancestors (mvumbi) who are placated through various rituals and ceremonies. The head of the family is responsible for taking care of the shrines and keeping the spirits happy. Dancers traditionally wear colorful masks and mungandji costumes made of raffia, as well as hairdresses that resemble the shapes of Pende huts.

Masquerading  plays a very important role in the lives of the Pende, during the Belgian occupation of the region (1908-1960), the dances and beating drums gave the people an escape where they could achieve an alter ego and talk out against the identity that was imposed by the state. They refer to the dancing of a mask, never to the wearing of a mask. Traditional dance ceremonies are often held in Kikwit, the largest city of the Kwilu province.

Pende masks are among the most dramatic from Africa. About twenty characters and seven "masks of power" (mungandji) appear in ceremonies. There are two styles: the western one of the Kwilu with its mbuya mask characterized by a somber, gloomy expression, and the Kasai style that is more geometric and colorful. The mungandji represent the ancestors; the mbuya, or village masks, represent human types, such as the chief, the diviner, the epileptic with a twisted mouth, the madman or man in a trance, the widow, the lover, or the executioner.

About the stamps

The first stamp depicts an allegorical figure, "New Republic," holding a fasces, a symbol of authority, with a blazing sun in the background, designed and engraved by Robert Cami (1900-1975), and issued by Democratic Republic of the Congo on November 28, 1959 for the first anniversary of the republic. This was the first stamp issued by the newly independent nation, then called Republic of the Congo, which was formerly a French colony.

The second stamp is part of the series Owls, issued on March 29, 1996:
Western Barn Owl (Tyto alba)
Fraser's Eagle-Owl (Bubo poensis)
Pel's Fishing Owl (Scotopelia peli)
Marsh Owl (Asio capensis) - It's on the postcard 2421

Tribal African Art: Pende (Bapende, Phembe, Pindi, Pinji) - African Art Museum
Pende, DRC - For African Art

Sender: Manlu
Sent from Brazzaville (Congo-Brazzaville), on 29.04.2015
Photo: Eliot Eliosofon / 1970
Issued by Smithsonian - National Museum of African Art to mark the 40th Anniversary of  Eliot Eliosofon Photographic Archives

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