Helmet Mask (Mbala)
Democratic Republic of the Congo
wood, cloth, raffia, polychrome
33.75" x 15.5" x 14"
Gift of Donna and Thomas L. Brumfield, Jr.
Like many cultures, the Yaka culture places great importance on the transition between boyhood and manhood. In preparation for the initiation ceremony, the initiate creates a special mask consisting of a brightly painted face with an upturned nose, a hat of three disks and a lizard.
The upturned nose references the trunk of an elephant and male genitalia. The lizard refers to the ingredients used by the priest during the ceremony. Thick raffia trims the outside of the mask. On the inside of the mask a wooden handle helps the initiate control its substantial weight.
The ceremony takes place in secret bush schools (nkanga). After the ceremony, the initiates return to the village wearing their masks and dance feverishly while the crowd cheers and judges their skill, placing honor upon the most creative. Usually worn only once and then burned, a mask seldom survives the ceremony.
Cornet, 1978, pp.100-106; Neyt, 1981, p.112.