Art and Initiation in Western Zambia

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

Chikuza or Chikunza (ancestral mask) made and performed by Mr. Bernard Mukuta Samukinji, Chokwe peoples, Chitofu Village, Zambia, 1991. Photo by Manuel Jordán.


Chikuza is one of the most important masks of the Chokwe. The ancestral spirit is considered the leader of the circumcision camp, and its roles are to protect the initiation physically and spiritually and to guide novices in their transitions into adulthood. Chikuza takes its name and form after a grasshopper bearing the same name and an elongated conical head resembling the mask's head superstructure.

Outside the context of male initiation, miniature carved representations of the mask bring good fortune to hunters and women suffering from infertility. A Zambian diviner explained that Chikuza's association with fertility started when, shortly before his death, an old Chokwe Chikuza dancer asked members of his village to care for his two orphan granddaughters. The community raised the sisters to become respectable members of society. In return, the Chokwe Chikuza dancer, as an ancestor, brought fertility to the women and prosperity for the whole village. Since then Chokwe use Chikuza amulets to benefit from ancestor’s influences.