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Cap mask
Date: Mid-20th century
Medium: Wood, cloth, plant fiber, pigment, paint
Dimensions: H x W x D: 63.7 x 30.5 x 35.5 cm (25 1/16 x 12 x 14 in.)
Credit Line: Bequest of Eliot Elisofon
Geography: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Object Number: 73-7-700
Search Terms:
geometric motif
Object is not currently on exhibit

Yaka masks are associated with nkanda male circumcision and puberty rituals. Initiation masters and the leaders of the initiates wear this type of mask in choreographed appearances of the male ancestors and culture heroes to promote life, growth and healing and to welcome a new generation of men. The masks contain complex and subtle references to male and female sexuality, the fertility of the earth and the cycles of the sun and the moon. At the end of the ceremonies, the masks are either destroyed or sold. Traditionally the mask's upward turning nose was removed and burned, with the ashes being kept until the next initiation ceremonies. The superstructure figure on this mask wears European clothing and seems to follow the model of a humorous, exaggerated body found on other masks, although lacking the blatant sexual/fertility imagery. While the superstructure is made of cotton cloth, suggesting the object is not so old, that it was used is supported by the presence of an amulet packet inside.

Cap mask composed of a wood face with protruding tubular blue eyes outlined in orange and with white pupils and a contracted jaw with vertical handle. The conical superstructure is fabricated with cloth stretched over an armature and adorned with blue, orange, yellow, green and white geometric patterns. The central spire supports three horizontal disks and the figure of a seated man with prominent hands in European garb.

Eliot Elisofon, New York, -- to 1973

The Stranger Among Us, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., March 24-September 7, 1982

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