Makunda (Initiation Mask)


By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Makunda (also called n-khanda, m-khanda, longwa or nzo longo) is the initiation society used to transition male children into manhood. Yaka boys considered ready for initiation (called tundansi) are taken to a bush camp outside of the main village, circumcised, hazed, given new names, taught what it takes to become a man (hunting, sex) and also taught specific performances and dances associated with society and the community. During the circumcision dance performances (kinkanda), the initiates wear special masks while their teachers alone are permitted to wear the ritual masks of the makunda ceremonies.

One such makunda ritual mask found among the Yaka and Suku is the giant and terrifying kakuungu (also called kakungu in some sources) used to frighten young initiates into obedience and to instil respect for elders. The oldest and most sacred of all Yaka and Suku masks, it is believed that the kakuungu mask represents founding fathers and is a protector of the young boys during the initiation process. First appearing on the day of circumcisions, the mask is danced by a yisidika (herbal specialist) in a bid to stop bleeding from the circumcision. It is also believed that the mask serves to protect initiates against witchcraft, ensure successful hunting for the initiates and to increase the fertility of the boys and subsequently of the community. The mask also appears during initiate departures from the camp and sometimes during the breaking of food restrictions.

When not in use, the masks are stored in mbwoolo shrines.

Distinguishing Features

  • Monumental dimensions
    • Largest variety of mask carved - 85 cm high on average
  • Some have a band or coiffure carved in relief on or above forehead
  • Broad, domed, projecting forehead carved in high relief
  • Coffee bean shaped slit eyes
  • Long narrow nose
  • Massive cheeks overhanging lower half of the face
    • Some have sunken upper cheeks
  • Prominent chin
  • Basic colours are red and white
    • Chin area generally white
    • Face sometimes vertically divided with red on one side and white on the other

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