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Art and Initiation Among the Yaka and Suku

by Arthur Bourgeois
Professor Emeritus, Governors State University

Democratic Republic of the Congo; Suku artist

Kakungu (initiation mask)

Wood, raffia

H. 66 cm (26”)

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

Traditional dignitaries among the northern Yaka and Suku divide the variety of mask-charms used in mukanda or n-khanda into two categories: those that do not dance and entertain and those that do.  The first category are those associated with the charm specialist and have a terrorizing effect.  They include masks named kakuungu and mbawa that appear at the outset of initiation and subsequently near its conclusion for the breaking of food restrictions.  Kakuungu masks are characterized by inflated cheeks, massive features, and a prominent chin, and are the largest variety carved averaging some 85 centimeters high.  Mbawa are horned masks constructed of vines bound into an oval or near-spherical structure covered with painted raffia cloth rather than carved of wood.