Art and Initiation Among the Yaka and Suku
by Arthur Bourgeois
Professor Emeritus, Governors State University
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.