Kalelua Mask, mid-20th century
Mixed media: barkcloth, pigment, string, sticks, paper, and cloth 30 in. x 22 1/2 in. x 22 1/2 in.
Crocker Art Museum, gift of Dr. and Mrs. Daniel J. Crowley1992.9.1
In central Africa, ethnic groups such as the Chokwe, Mbunda, Lunda, Luvale/Lwena, and Luchazi peoples of Angola, Zambia, or the Democratic Republic of Congo practice a masquerade tradition featuring masks called makishi.1 This masquerade form has hundreds of different characters, some considered sociable and others aggressive, but all considered to be makishi. Their appearance in masquerade is most associated with mukanda, the initiation of young boys into adulthood. The makishi masqueraders embody ancestral spirits of important deceased individuals. Their role is to guide and protect during what is considered a time of danger when the boys are isolated from their families at the initiation camp. The masks are created and performed by initiated men, and many examples are dressed with plant fiber, beads, and other materials that help to convey the specific traits associated with the different makishi characters.2