Artist: Yaka peoples Region: Democratic Republic of the Congo Collection: The Justin & Elisabeth Lang Collection Period: 20th century Materials: Wood, pigment, raffia, canvas Dimensions:
While many societies mark the passage from childhood or adolescence to adulthood, such ceremonies provide one of the most common reasons for masking in traditional African communities. This dynamic mask was created for one such ritual among the Yaka peoples, who are primarily located in the south-western Democratic Republic of the Congo. When a certain number of boys in a village reach the ages of ten to fifteen years, the elders order the creation of an initiation camp. The boys spend from one to three years in this isolated environment, with a number of officials who oversee their circumcision, then educate them in the lessons of adulthood, such as relations between the sexes, hunting and dancing.
When the boys return to the village, everyone participates in the nkanda ceremony that welcomes them back. The sculptor carves as many as nine different masks, each having a name and particular role in the event. The ndeemba mask shown here is a type that is danced in pairs. The initiates hold the mask by a handle under the raffia, allowing the villagers to see them. Typical of ndeemba masks, it features painted canvas over a spiky wooden framework that surmounts a brightly coloured face. Favoured colours are blue, red, orange and white, and the nose is always prominent. While some masks in the ceremony are preserved for future use, the ndeemba mask usually is not; ashes of burnt masks are incorporated into new ones to symbolize continuity.