Kisokolo (Initiation Headdress)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Nkanda is the initiation society used to transition male children into manhood among the Nkanu. Nkanu boys are taken to a bush camp outside of the main village (separation), circumcised and taught what it takes to become a man including hunting and sex (transition) and then finally taught specific performances and dances for their reintegration into the community. During the dance performances, the initiates wear special dance masks while their teachers alone are permitted to wear the ritual masks of the nkanda ceremonies (believed to represent spirits of ancestors that protect initiates during the rite).

Four main masks are danced during Nkanu nkanda reintegration celebrations: kisokolo, nkooso, kakuungu and makeemba. During the transition phase, kisokolo masks are used to maintain order in the initiation camps by beating unruly non-initiates into obedience, sources also point to the masks being used to ward of evil and cure illness during the circumcision of initiates. Believed to represent a womaniser, kisokolo masks accompany the newly circumcised men back into the community. It dances sensually to erotic songs to demonstrate one of the undesirable behaviours within the village.

Distinguishing Features

  • Carved from highly spongy, light weight wood (kingela; umbrella tree)
  • Horns extend out from each side of head
    • Made from palm leaves wound round with raffia or strips of cotton
  • Large, broad, white human face
  • Black painted eyebrows
  • Heavy-lidded, half-closed eyes
    • Pierced eye slits
  • Rectangular ears
  • Prominent nose; sometimes upturned
  • Gap between incisor teeth
  • Face attached to large, bulging superstructure or headdress
    • Painted in motifs of polychrome decorations
  • Raffia collar encircles chin and top of head to high face of initiate in some examples

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