The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Art and Initiation Among the Yaka and Suku

by Arthur Bourgeois
Professor Emeritus, Governors State University

Suku regional chief, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1976. Photo by Arthur Bourgeois.


Lineage headmen, as original owners of the land, bear insignia and perform important rituals regarding the hunt.  The headpiece of woven materials is known as bweni.  Each is associated with the name of a distant ancestor whose title is conferred simultaneously with the symbol.  The bweni is a communal charm that must be continually worn both day and night. Commonly featured are bweni with one to three crests rising longitudinally from the front to back of the head.  Bweni hats often have protruding and added elements like the antelope horn charm-containers pictured here.  Added is the tsala, a burst of white egret feathers that must be removed in the presence of a regional chief.  Leopard teeth pendant and leopard skins are further emblems of status.


Democratic Republic of Congo; Suku peoples. Performance. Video by Arthur Bourgeois.