Art and Initiation in Western Zambia

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

Mukanda initiation graduate with mukuku (hat), Chokwe peoples, Lyomokela Village, Zambia, 1991. Photo by Manuel Jordán.


After enduring a long period of initiation, boys return to the village where they are received by relatives, neighbors, and friends as heroes. Body painting, raffia skirts, and hats are part of the graduation dress worn by initiates during chilende (coming-out ceremonies). The mukuku (hats) resemble the helmets worn by Portuguese officers during colonial times in Angola. These may also be designed to imitate the crowns worn by chiefs or the head superstructures of some mukishi (ancestral mask types). In their graduation dress the initiates perform dances they learned during their initiation. The dances mark their return to village life after months of seclusion in an initiation camp. After the graduation ceremonies, the initiates may change into new European-style clothes received as gifts from their relatives. In their new clothes they will receive additional gifts from neighbors and friends. They later return to the village to receive more gifts from neighbors and friends.