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Art and Initiation Among the Yaka and Suku

by Arthur Bourgeois
Professor Emeritus, Governors State University

Democratic Republic of the CongoYaka (Aiacka, Bayaka) peoples

Kholuka (initiation mask)

Wood, vegetable fiber, split cane, feathers, raffia

H. 66.04 cm (26”)

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1990.641

Masking can be viewed as a protection from danger for the masked wearer within a ritually ambiguous situation.  The mask itself serves as an outer projection of deeper, symbolic structures evoking primal narratives and events and past situations.  It is a repeat performance and its repetition is the means by which the entities represented are made manifest in the present.  The intentional ambiguity of time present and time past is united.  Within the masking context, with its concentration of ritual and symbol, a new dimension is created.  Performers are transformed and transported into the setting out of which the ancestors, their tutelary spirits and protective charms originally transformed society.  In this sense, they become their founding ancestors and the past shapes the present.