By Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Democratic Republic of the Congo; Suku artist

Kakungu (initiation mask)

Wood, raffia

H. 66 cm (26”)

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection of African Art, X1990.651

Throughout the world, changes in people's lives are marked by important celebrations. Whether the transition is called bar-mitzvah (as in Jewish boys' initiation), confirmation, communion, graduation or initiation, all amount to very similar irreversible changes in social life. In Africa, the important changes in people's lives are also marked by celebrations, and art is a vehicle for the expression of ideas associated with these changes. Among the most critical junctures in any person's life is the process by which a child leaves behind the world of children and joins the adult world. This transition may be prolonged by training in the skills needed for survival as an adult, by education in the secrets of the spiritual realm, by understanding of self and one's relationship to the environment, and by physical tests and trials of endurance proving that the new adult will be up to the challenges of survival in the community. This mask from the Suku people was worn by the teachers at the conclusion of boys' initiation.