Mukanda masks of Belgium African Museum

Mukanda schools masks create a mysterious setting presenting an image of an ancient ritual  of boys passing to manhood. The re-opened African Museum, Belgium, exposes a collection of artifacts from different tribes*, accompanied by explanations of the video hosts to guide a visitor into a universe of schooling by the spirits of masked deceased ancestors Makishiwho revisit the world of living to protect the young boys, and the entire village during the period of Mukanda school session.

The opening of school is a memorable moment of a night festivity, with plenty of food and Katasu beverage to frame the entrance to the first rituals on next morning: Nganga Mukanda or a ‘natural healer‘ will rub a clay into boys bodies to prepare them for a circumcision at Kateteveje ‘death place‘. The drums beat in frenzy to overwhelm the screams of the boys…

Curator and scientist Hein Vanhee devoted to the history of peoples of the Democratic Republic of Congo at Africa Museum, and at the University of Gent Centre for Bantu Studies shares his knowledge of the mask collection (Video above).

Image: above ‘The Rotunda‘ of African Museum, Belgium.


Tribes” is a term which we do not longer use, because it has colonial connotations and describes inaccurately the peoples about whom the exhibitions are. We prefer to speak of “peoples” in general of when referring to more local contexts we use “communities.Hein Vanhee.

One Comment Add yours

  1. “Face of the mukanda rite

    The mukanda initiation spread throughout southwest Congo, the northwest of Zambia, and large parts of Angola before 1900. In the 20th century, it disappeared in many places, but it is on the rise again here and there.

    Masks played a key role in the mukanda rites. They represent supernatural beings who protected the boys and instructed them during their initiation. During the festive return to their village, the initiated boys were also accompanied by masked dancers.

    The masks that you see here were collected between 1910 and 1992. They attest to great creative diversity and show traces of cultural exchange.

    The makishi school

    In Zambia, Luvale and other Tshokwe-related peoples still organize mukanda initiations. Masked dancers frequently appear. They represent makishi, the spirits of ancestors who return to the village. Each mask has its own physical and symbolic attributes, and behaves in its own way. At the end of the initiation, there is a public procession with dancing masks.

    The masks that you see here were collected in 1998 and 2002 by the anthropologist Boris Wastiau.” from Africa Museum official text on Mukanda, courtesy of Hein Vanhee. 9/12/2018


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