The Zombo, Nkanu and Yaka live close to each other on the savanna mountain plateaus of southwestern Congo and northeastern Angola. Their supreme deity, Nzambi Mpungu, is positioned at the apex of the original Kongo religious pantheon. This hierarchy includes spirits of their ancestors (bakulu), spirits of the people who inhabited the land before them (bankita, bisimbi, matebo) and impersonal forces (minkisi).

Within their communities, natural healers, diviners and sorcerers use sculpture or other objects of power to manipulate metaphysical powers in order to restore the health of their fellow humans.

The nkanda is an important ritual. A compulsory rite of passage for every adolescent boy, the nkanda prepares him physically and mentally for the tasks that await him as an adult within the community. The initiation includes the teaching of certain manual skills, parables, songs and dances, as well as induction into the ethics and beliefs of the people.

All the nkanda masks are used during the closing ceremonies of the ritual. They ensure the smooth course of this crucial phase, during which the boys, who were thought dead by the community, are ritually reborn. Masks are usually carved from soft, light wood and finished with polychrome painting.