The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Art and Initiation Among the Yaka and Suku

by Arthur Bourgeois
Professor Emeritus, Governors State University

Northern Suku mahamba masks, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1976. Photo by Arthur Bourgeois.

Paired helmet-shaped masks of wood are distinctive of Suku as well as some enclaves of Yaka.  This mask variety is termed hemba in the north.  Made from a cylindrical section of wood carved into a helmet or bell-shape, the exterior is worked into the image of a human face and coiffure, often surmounted by a personage or with an animal.  Such masks among Suku, are said to serve as a collective image of elders who have departed, particularly past leemba (matrilineage headmen).  Yet at the same time, they remain a powerful charm that can effect success in hunting, cure certain disorders, and harm anyone concealing malevolent intent or showing disrespect.


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