Helmet Mask (Hemba), Wood, pigment, Suku peoples

Helmet Mask (Hemba)

19th–20th century
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Suku peoples
Wood, pigment
H. 18 5/8 x W. 9 1/4 x D. 10 in. (47.3 x 23.5 x 25.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Gaston de Havenon, 1977
Accession Number:
Not on view
Throughout southern Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola, brightly painted and decorated masks are used to mark the transition to adult life. during the initiation period, which may last a year or more, adolescent boys are separated from the village and made to undergo a series of ordeals, including circumcision, designed to measure their strength and courage. These tests often culminate in the boys' symbolic death as children and rebirth as men. Among Yaka and Suku peoples, the conclusion of mukanda--coming to manhood rites--is accompanied by performances of kholuka masks. The imagery that surmounts these masks translates into visual form the lyrics of songs that emphasize gender differences. Figural representations of humans and animals ridicule women and celebrate male virility. Contemporary works reinforce generational continuity and male solidarity by incorporating the ashes of masks danced on the occasion of preceding mukanda.
Gaston T. de Havenon, New York, until 1977

Bourgeois, Arthur P. Art of the Yaka and Suku. Meudon: Alain et Francoise Chaffin, 1984.