Adult Initiation

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

Democratic Republic of the Congo; Lega peoples

Mukuba (hat)

Fiber, buttons, beads

H. 40.64 cm (16 in)

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, Anonymous gift in honor of Betty Stanley, 1986.76

A few Lega attained the final rank in the Bwami society called kindi. Only they might possess ivory figures and masks, through which the deepest truths of Lega culture were contemplated and taught. One such object is a figure with several faces called Mr. Many-Heads, that proclaimed the all-seeing power of the elders and warned any who might contradict their wisdom and authority. At least in the past, kindi members also wore spectacular hats like this one called mukuba, tilted to the back to expose an old man's cleanly shaven head. Only kindi could wear the elephant tail switches adorning this hat, for the wise elders were closely associated with the animal's great stature, quiet disposition, and furious destruction when challenged. Such an insignia of rank announced that though perhaps frail, a kindi elder still possessed great strength and reserve. High-ranking women of kindi sometimes wore the elephant tail hats of their husbands (Cameron 1995: 155; Cameron 2001: 78-83).