Art and Initiation Among the Yaka and Suku

by Arthur Bourgeois
Professor Emeritus, Governors State University

Initiates with their guardians on route to bathe, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1976. Photo by Arthur Bourgeois.

In Central Africa, the rites of passage of young males to manhood were known by some variant of the word mukanda among the Lunda, Chokwe, Luena, Liumbi, Ngangela, Mbunda, Soonde, Pende, Yaka, Suku, and Tsamba.  In its essentials, mukanda (n-khanda among the Yaka) is an initiation of young males from village life for a period of months or years, a painful circumcision and treatment with medicinal charms followed by a period of living in a rude "lodge" suffering taunts, hazing, and eating poor food, receiving formalized education in dance, song, training in traditional lore, and involving masking, taking new names, and introduction as adult members into the community.