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.

In general, a masked performance involves the transformation of a human actor into a being of another order who intervenes in village life.  Masks generally entail some symbolic transformation but this transformation concerns not just the power-object consisting of head or facial covering and body costume but equally the transformation of participants, audience and social situation.  Sets of relationships are implicated whereby power is exchanged, transformed or otherwise manipulated.  As extensions of chiefly authority or that of the elders, this power includes the capacity to nominate others as equals or unequal and to open potentiality and possibility.  This power derives from diverse centers and epicenters in a dynamic relationship rather than a single source of dominance.

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