Art and Initiation Among the Yaka and Suku

by Arthur Bourgeois
Professor Emeritus, Governors State University

The newly circumcised remain naked in the open, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1976. Photo by Arthur Bourgeois.

In the several days following circumcision, the newly circumcised remain naked in the open, clustered around a small fire and sharing a few tattered mats.  The officials utilize the specially built n-khanda structure from which the boys are temporarily excluded, although a few officials may remain on the ground near the boys.  Yet the atmosphere is anything but comforting.  They are made to insult their sisters and parents and their food is purposely dumped on the ground and soiled.  At sunrise and sunset, the boys are forced to stand on one leg putting one foot to the knee of the other and with arms outstretched--a cock-like stance that figures virile erection.  Gradually they are introduced to a n-khanda argot, an extensive series of word substitutions for common objects and animals.  Numerous food restrictions are imposed and they are beaten with switches as a punishment for the least complaint, breach of silence, mistake, or reluctance to follow orders.