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.

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). 

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