Adult Initiation

By Allen F. Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles (formerly University of Iowa)

Democratic Republic of the Congo; Lega peoples

Kayamba mask

Wood, fiber

H. 55.9 cm (22")

The University of Iowa Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.589

This rare horned mask of the Bwami Society among Lega people was owned and worn or displayed by an accomplished teacher of Bwami lore during yonanio initiations. Called Kayamba, it “represents a clever and shrewd person: 'Kayamba, who comes from afar, cannot be bad.’” Greater ambiguity is introduced when Kayamba masks are danced in pairs, for then they “portray a confrontation of Kabimbi, the Clever-One, and Kalulungula, the liar” (Biebuyck 1973: 214). Through such dramas, the dilemmas and anxious tensions of social life were considered and Bwami ethics both taught and enforced. Like other masks, Kayamba were “combined with sayings, drama, music, and so forth in performances by men and women” (Cameron 2001: 211), as seen in a field photograph taken by Daniel Biebuyck (1973: plate 37) more than fifty years ago.