Art and Initiation Among the Yaka and Suku
by Arthur Bourgeois
Professor Emeritus, Governors State University
Northern Suku mahamba masks traditionally danced as a mask-charm in m-khanda initiation contexts present a collective image of ancestors, particularly past leemba (matrilineage headmen) who visit their descendants in time of need. Here they perform in pairs with an attendant and to the accompaniment of musicians singing songs of mourning as they play drums, lamellophones, and rattles. Carved of one piece of wood with the helmet form mask are the duiker tsetse and bambi, tricksters of the forest and savannah. The masks are worn by elders in netted shirt with sleeves, a fiber skirt at the waist with dried monkey skins attached. Two or more rows of seed-pod balls worn on the lower legs serve as percussion instruments. In the dancer's hands are held misesa (dance wands).