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 initiate dance mask, worn by the camp leader (langala or bumbangi) and the last to appear during the final 'coming-out' ceremony, is the kholuka (also called mbala) helmet mask (NOTE: some sources state that kholuka is danced by the most senior initiate, the mbala). Following the completion of initiation rites, the young boys are led out of seclusion and back into the community. Before festivities can begin, the head teacher (kahyuudi or kayudi) commissions a carver (nkalaweeni or mvumbwa) to create a series of masks. The following masks are worn in succession during the final ceremony:

  • Kambaandzya
  • Tsekedi
  • Myondo
  • Ndeemba
  • Kholuka (Mbala)

Yaka masks are worn during public festivities, including a great village feast, to welcome the initiates back to the community. Masqueraders perform for the community and receive gifts from bystanders. A kholuka mask is worn and danced alone to signal the end of the day's ceremonies. Kholuka masks are one of the most popular in the community—the mask's imagery and performance by the masquerader celebrate the differences between men and women while also ridiculing female attributes and deviant behaviour.

Following the end of the 'coming-out' ceremony the initiates, together with their masks, tour neighbouring villages.

Distinguishing Features

  • Polychrome human face
    • Globular or tubular eyes
    • Protuberant or snub nose
    • Open mouth showing teeth
    • NOTE: Face can be replaced by figures
  • High-rising cap (like a reversed funnel)
  • Cap normally topped by a mass of feathers
    • Coiffure sometimes replaces with branches covered with raffia
  • Cap sectioned by horizontal discs
  • Polychrome human figure or animal surmounts mask; sits against cap (made of wood or wicker)
    • Scenes feature sexuality and/or human or animal procreation
    • Sometimes substituted by items associated with domestic activity
    • Other examples feature mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles peering toward facial portion of mask

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