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The art of the Yaka people
The Yaka art is rich and diverse, with much of it influenced by their neighbors —the Suku, the Kongo, the Holo and the Teke. Yaka statues do have distinct characteristics, specifically an upturned nose and pigment applied to it. They also carve masks and headgear for use in initiation and that are worn by traditional leaders. Hair combs and fly whisks are carved with decorations as well. Both mbwoolo sculptures and a type of carved slit drum known as a mukoku are used for certain rituals.
The Yaka used mukoku to divine the future. These were not only be played by diviners, but would also hold divinatory medicine in them as well.
Yaka peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo Mask (Kholuka), Early 20th century
Masks were worn mainly during initiation ceremonies in the Ngoni and the Yiwilla societies. There are different types, which correspond to different uses. The leader’s mask, Mbala, usually has flared ears and a vegetal-fiber spiked decoration on it. The ritual expert male and female masks, Kakungu, have inflated cheeks and enlarged eyes. The initiate’s mask, Kholuka, has a face surrounded by a ridge, surrounded by a vegetal-fiber decoration that supports figures or animals on top.
The masks are believed to offer protection to boys during the period of physical and spiritual vulnerability that happens during their initiation into manhood in a ceremony called nkhanda. They also served to introduce moral and social ideas that were important to them, as well as for entertainment.
Historically, the masks were destroyed at the end of the initiation period, but they are in museums now, and can be found for sale online.
The specific meaning of the imagery used in them is unclear, Yaka masks usually illustrate ideas about gender differences, translating songs that focus on male and female social responsibilities into visual form. Music is very important in their culture.
For more information on these rituals, visit this page.
The majority of Yaka figures were carved in pairs, and associated with Mbwoolo shrines. Their abdomens have a hollow area,
This statue depicts a double faced (Janus) figure carved in the Yaka style. The figure is adorned with a paraphernalia bundle. The statue is 16 inches tall and weighs 3.5 pounds.
which allows for the insertion of ceremonial fetish materials, and are also adorned with bundles of paraphernalia related to them. The figures are multi-functional and at times seem to have contradictory purposes, such as their use to both heal and cause illness to one's enemies.
Objects such as zoomorphic and anthropo-morphic neck rests , cups and other household utencils, combs and terracotta pipes, among other things were also carved. They were made specifically for chiefs and were kept by them. Slit drums ending in a carved human head were also part of everyday use by diviners.