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.


A mfumu misala (Suku regional chief) wears a head covering known as misango mayaka, a beaded bicorn hat purchased from the Pende.  The hat form is traditional to the great Lunda and Luwa-Sonde chiefs to the southeast of the Yaka and Suku, but is not the traditional form used by Yaka and Suku political leaders before 1940.  The bicorn feature relates to the ponderousness and bullish strength of the buffalo mpakasa (Syncerus caffer), the largest of African bovines.  The surmounting pompon of white feathers merges the older leadership symbol with the imported variety.  The tsala (older symbol) is characterized by a miniature openwork construction rising in the shape of a cone that supports a burst of feathers.  The variety of feathers differentiates the rank of the chief.