Art and Initiation Among the Yaka and Suku

by Arthur Bourgeois
Professor Emeritus, Governors State University

Democratic Republic of the Congo; Suku peoples

Kakungu (initiation mask)

Wood, raffia

H. 66 cm (26”)

The University of Iowa Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1990.651

While the initiation of girls into adulthood is often simpler and less distinct than that of boys, rarely involves masks and long period of instruction, male initiation is surprisingly uniform throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa.  This uniformity is nowhere as marked as in Central Africa in the region politically divided into the countries of Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe.  Here many ethnic units share a common history, political structure, and religious concepts.  The lack of effective natural frontiers between ethnic territories, otherwise distributed along major waterways, encouraged migration of clan segments, trading, raiding, and frequent interchange of ideas, ritual and social practice.