TITLE: Yaka Kholuka
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Congo, Dem. Rep. of
ETHNICITY: Yaka
DESCRIPTION: Kholuka Makunda Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Makunda
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: split cane; cotton cloth; resin; raffia; natural pigments

The Yaka people of Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have a male initiation society known as Makunda or Nkhaanda, which is charged with circumcising, hazing, and teaching boys to become a man (mainly, education in hunting and sex).  During the circumcision dance performances (kinkanda), the initiates wear special masks while their teachers alone are permitted to wear the ritual masks of the Makunda. After initiation, the boys are led out of seclusion and back into the community.  Before festivities can begin, the head teacher (kahyuudi or kayudi) commissions a carver (nkalaweeni or mvumbwa) to create a series of masks. Many types of masks are worn or danced in succession during the final initiation feast:

  • Kambaandzya (a raffia cloth domed helmet mask with a brim bisecting it; the mask is covered in black resin and painted with geometric designs in red, white, blue, and yellow)
  • Tsekedi (a leather or raffia cloth helmet mask with a white, human face and a series of horizontal discs on an inverted cone topping the helmet)
  • Mweelu (a helmet made of braided raffia fiber with large numbers of feathers; birdlike eyes in wood, gourd or bamboo; and a hornbill beak for a mouth)
  • Ndeemba (an abstract human face with bulging eyes carved of wood; many phallic rods come out of the helmet in all directions, including the inverted cone on the very top)
  • Kholuka (a polychrome human face with bulging eyes, and an open mouth showing the teeth, carved of wood; horizontal discs on an inverted cone come from the top, with bird feathers, and polychrome figures of humans or animals)

The kholuka, also known as a mbaala, is worn either by the leader of the initiation or the senior initiate.  It is the last danced, and it is danced alone to signal the end of the initiation ceremony. Unlike the other masked dances, which are entertaining to the audience, the kholuka creates a sense of unease due to the overtly sexual behavior of the dancer.

There are also masks not danced by initiates, known as Kakuungu. This mask is a large, long face mask with a distorted human-like face having bulbous chin, cheeks, and forehead.  It is thought to represent an ancestor and is danced by the herbal shaman to stop bleeding after the circumcision. Similarly, the mbawa, a mouthless helmet mask of raffia cloth over an ovular structure of split cane, with horn s to symbolize the pakasa buffalo, is not danced by initiates.

For more on Yaka masquerade, see Arthur P. Bourgeois, Art of the Yaka and Suku (1984).

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TITLE: Hemba Soko Mutu Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo
ETHNICITY: Hemba
DESCRIPTION: Soko Mutu (“Man’s Brother”) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: funeral
AGE: 2000-2005
MAIN MATERIAL: hardwood
OTHER MATERIALS: N/A

The Hemba people of southeastern Congo are an agricultural group closely related to the Luba people. They live in ancestor-based clans headed by an elder (fuma mwalo) and organized by a secret society for men (Bukazanzi) and one for women (Bukibilo).

Among the east African peoples, masks rarely represent non-human primates, because the resemblances to human beings are considered unsettling. One important exception is the soko mutu (“man’s brother”) mask of the Hemba. The soko mutu represents a chimpanzee, and the raised eyebrows and wide, jagged mouth are intended to be fearsome.  The Hemba dance the soko mutu mask at funerals in order to symbolize the presence of death in the form of a chimpanzee spirit. Recently, some Hemba have begun calling the mask misi gwa so’o (chimpanzee spirit).

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TITLE: Pende Giphogo (Kipoko) Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of the Congo
ETHNICITY: Eastern Pende
DESCRIPTION: Giphogo (Kipoko) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Mukanda Ritual
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Protection; Purification; Social Control; Spirit Invocation; Status
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: cloth; string; pigment

The Pende people have many different kinds of masks they wear, especially at adult initiation rituals. The giphogo (or kipoko) is one such mask.  The word giphogo means “sword wielder” and is a symbol of power among the Eastern Pende. The mask is kept in the chief’s home, and only chiefs are allowed to authorize dance with this type of mask on the occasion of initiations and rituals of the ancestor cult of the Eastern Pende. Its uses include protection from evil spirits; prayers or thanks for successful harvests and tribal fertility; to identify and punish sorcerers; and adult initiation during mukanda rituals.

The masquerader carries one or two flywhisks made of animal hair, which are used to mimic agricultural work or to purify the village grounds.

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TITLE: Kuba Face Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo
ETHNICITY: Kuba
DESCRIPTION: Face Mask of Unknown Type
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Entertainment; Funeral; Status
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: copper sheet; burlap; cowrie shells; plant fiber; feathers; hardware; string; pigment

The Kuba people inhabit the area south of the Kasai River.  Although the Kuba have some two dozen mask types, those still in use today are mostly the three royal masks, whose use is reserved to those given permission by the quasi-divine king (nyimi). These are danced mainly as a form of entertainment reinforcing the status of the royalty and at chiefly funerals.  The adult initiation (mukanda) masks are now rarely used in Kuba society. This specific mask is of an unknown type.

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REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo (Belgian Congo)
YEAR PRINTED: 1948
VALUE: 8 francs

This stamp was issued by the Belgian colonial government in Congo in 1948. It depicts the mwashamboy or ngadia mwash mask of the Kuba people. The mask represents the original queen of the Kuba Kingdom and is one of three royal masks used in an historical dance drama, along with masks of the king and the king’s brother.

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REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire)
YEAR PRINTED: 1977
VALUE: 0.25 zaire

This stamp was issued by the government of Zaire, now called the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1977 as one of a set of six celebrating the dance masks of the region. This stamp depicts a mask of the Kuba people.

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REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire)
YEAR PRINTED: 1977
VALUE: 0.20 zaire

This stamp was issued by the government of Zaire, now called the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1977 as one of a set of six celebrating the dance masks of the region. This stamp depicts a mask of the Kuba people.

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REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire)
YEAR PRINTED: 1977
VALUE: 0.10 zaire

This stamp was issued by the government of Zaire, now called the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1977 as one of a set of six celebrating the dance masks of the region. This stamp depicts an adult initiation mask of the Suku people.

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REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire)
YEAR PRINTED: 1977
VALUE: 0.07 zaire

This stamp was issued by the government of Zaire, now called the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1977 as one of a set of six celebrating the dance masks of the region. This stamp depicts a mwana pwo mask of the Chokwe people.

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REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire)
YEAR PRINTED: 1977
VALUE: 0.05 zaire

This stamp was issued by the government of Zaire, now called the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1977 as one of a set of six celebrating the dance masks of the region. This stamp depicts a mwana pwo mask of the Chokwe people.

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