Art and Initiation in Western Zambia

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

Mupala (ancestral mask), Luchazi peoples, Kawanda Village, Zambia, 1991. Photo by Manuel Jordán.

Luchazi and Luvale (in Angola called Lwena) make masks similar to those of the Chokwe to represent ancestral spirits that protect the initiation camps for boys. Some masked characters are aggressive in nature and have exaggerated physical features to intimidate intruders and uninitiated members of the community. Mupala is easily distinguished from other masks or mukishi, because of its over-proportioned forehead and nose, as well as its very large crown with feathers attached to the back. Mupala is considered by Luchazi and Luvale as the “lord of the circumcision camp.” Armed with a branch and sometimes a machete or an axe, Mupala visits the village “from the world of the dead” to confront women who will run away from the spirit or dance with it, according to the ambiguous (passive-aggressive) behavior and disposition of the ancestral character. This type of performance dramatizes gender tensions with in the community.