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

Lunda peoples, Zambia, ancestral mask. Photo by Allen F. Roberts.

Male initiation may also have political overtones at local and national levels. In the 1950s, some Tabwa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then the Belgian Congo) adopted a Tanzanian form of boys' initiation in resistance to long influence by Catholic missionaries hoping to replace local rituals with their own. In the 1970s, President Tombalbaye of Chad obliged all his countrymen, including northern Muslims with whom he was engaged in civil war, to submit to the male initiation of his own ethnic group. This gesture, meant to prove dominance and create national integration, contributed to Tombalbaye's demise. A more constructive example is this Lunda boys' initiation mask from the early 1990s in Zambia. Called Utenu, the mask stands for all that is fierce and is intended to keep women and uninitiated boys away from the camp. Its graffiti underscores its aggressive nature through reference to UNITA, the secessionist party of Jonas Savimbi of Angola that brought terror and refugee displacement throughout the region (Jordán 1993, 2006).