Photographs © Tim Hamill
YAKA, MASK 25, 33", Wood, cloth, paint and raffia, $600, SOLD, DRC
The most important event in the Yaka ceremonial cycle is the initiation of young boys into adulthood. To mark the end of the educational period, festivities are held in which the initiates perform with newly carved masks. Additionally, it showcases the most startling masks and the most spectacular dances.
Initiation mukhanda, that includes circumcision, is a crucial part of Yaka life. Circumcision and initiation, mandatory for all young men, are organized in a remote place called mukhanda-mu-msitu. The rituals are organized by the main secret societies : ngoni and yiwilla.
These masks are carved for initiation and are used only once. The carver (muumbwa) repairs and carves new masks for circumcisions which are danced in pairs or groups, except the mask worn by the tutor's leader who dances alone. Masked dancer first asks permission and begs gifts wherever the initiates travel to perform. The ritual expert and his aide, the senior tutor, the sculptor, and the initiates wear different masks. The most common masks (kholuka) are used by initiates and vary greatly. A tutor wears a zoomorphic mask named mpakasa, our numbers 6 and 14. During its performance, the mask was held by a handle hidden behind the raffia cloth, showing only on mask 13, but on all masks except for 2, 4, 9, 11, 15, 17 and 19.
Most Yaka masks have a painted cloth shape or figure(s) fastened over a reed structure as shown in the detail from mask no. 2. Several masks are completely of wood and include no cloth, ( Numbers 4, 11, 12, 15 and 19.)
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