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 many African societies, initiation of adolescent youth to adulthood involves rituals, elaborate performances, and distinctly embellished objects.  This event marks the passage of an individual from the social status of child to that of an adult.  Thus an initiate goes through a period of social transition in which identification with one stage is given up for another.  Physical change, such as circumcision or scarification, name change, severe hazing, instruction in social custom, and identification with the group through dress or performance have a significant symbolizing function.  Moreover, the public nature of the ceremony enhances self-esteem and assists in the assumption of this new identity.


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