Art and Initiation in Western Zambia

by Manuel Jordán
Musical Instrument Museum (formerly Birmingham Museum of Art)

Ancestral mask representing Mwendumba (a lion) made and performed by Charles Chitofu. Chokwe peoples, Chitofu Village, Zambia, 1991. Photo by Manuel Jordán.

Chokwe, Lunda, Lwena, Luchazi, Mbunda, and related peoples create a variety of mukishi or makishi (masks) to represent or embody their ancestral spirits. Mukishi bring their positive supernatural influences to villages and protect men's initiation camps while assuming human, animal, or hybrid physical characteristics. Masks are exclusively made and performed by men and are either carved from wood or constructed with bent branches, cloth, tar, beeswax, paper strips, or fibers. This Chokwe mask is called Mwendumba (“the lion”). The animal serves as a metaphor for power and invincibility, attributes associated with a chief. Mwendumba is constructed with two parallel head superstructures that represent a lion's mane and a chief’s royal crown. Mwendumba's crown may be decorated with linear motifs or circular patterns which relate to the sun or the moon as chiefly symbols. In its performance Mwendumba is generally aggressive, chasing women and uninitiated members of the community away from the initiation camp. This mask was made and performed by Charles Chitofu.