Suku Helmet Mask - D.R. Congo

The initiation rites of the Suku are carried out by the makunda (or n-khanda) society, who employ a variety of masks, including the type of helmet mask (hemba) presented here. Hemba represent the community of deceased matrilineal chiefs (leemba), which welcomes the initiated young men back into society following their transformation. Outside their prominent role in makunda rites, hemba are danced to ensure successful hunts, to heal the sick, and to punish the wicked.

Carved from a single piece of wood, this fine hemba beautifully exemplifies traditional Suku design, with a compact face whitened with kaolin and a dome-shaped coiffure surmounted by an antelope figure. The antelope is just one in a range of animal crest images common to hemba, which often include avian forms. Red ochre has been used to color the lower portion of the face, around an open mouth with sharply defined teeth.

 

Early 20th century
16” h 7 ½” w
Wood, pigment
Provenance: Private New York collection
Exhibited and published in The Art of Zaire: 100 Masterworks from the National Collection, African-American Institute, New York City, 1975
#534
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