One of the masks both the Yaka and their neighbors the Suku associate with the initiation of boys into adulthood, kawbwama represents a particular type of buffalo that is the largest African bovine. According to Yaka and Suku beliefs, this buffalo is an animal that can disappear and reappear at will, recalling certain spiritual practitioners with similar powers. In addition, the animal is also likened to an elder who is very powerful and can be both helpful and menacing. At its appearances during initiations, the mask is supposed to frighten the boys so that they will obey and respect their elders. It also is meant to threaten any person or force wishing harm to the boys. Unlike most other Yaka and Suku masks, this one is not made by a professional sculptor, but instead is fashioned from splints, cloth, and raffia by the adult leader of the initiation.
Yaka peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Cloth, pigment, raffia, bamboo
H. 64 in. (162.6 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Evan F. Lilly Memorial, Gift of Thomas T. Solley, 80.8