Yaka & Suku people have lived in the south- western part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire)

Yaka With Masks.  This picture from «White Fathers»

Yaka With Masks.
This picture from «White Fathers»

Today, the 300,000 Yaka people live along the Wamba River. They migrated from Angola during the 16th century and settled under the control of the Kongo kingdom.

In the 18th century their lands were annexed by the Angola-based Lunda people, but by the 19th century the Yaka had regained their independence. Yaka society is tightly structured and headed by a chief of Lunda origin, the Kiamfu, who delegates responsibilities to ministers and lineage chiefs, Unkwagata.

Young men are expected to pass through various initiation stages, including circumcision. The tribe lives principally from hunting, although subsidiary farming is undertaken by the women.

Yaka artistic tradition is rich and various, but much of it has been informed by their neighbours —the Suku, the Kongo, the Holo and the Teke. Nevertheless, Yaka statues do have common charac. teristics — an upturned nose and applied pigments

Yaka Mask, Congo

Yaka Mask, Congo

Yaka masks are worn predominantly during initiation ceremonies related to the Ngoni and the Yiwilla societies. There are different types which correspond to different functions: the leader’s mask, known as Mbala, has flared ears and a vegetal-fibre spiked coiffure. The ‘ritual expert’ male and female masks, called Kakungu, have inflated cheeks and enlarged eyes (9), while the initiate’s mask, known as Kholuka, has a face surrounded by a ridge and surmounted by a vegetal-fibre coiffure which supports figures or animals


Statue Yaka

The majority of Yaka figures were carved in pairs and were associated with Mbwoolo shrines. Their abdomen are hollow, enabling the insertion of fetish material and they are also adorned with bundles of paraphernalia (io). Yaka figures are multi-functional and sometimes have contradictory roles, for example, they were used to heal and to cause illness.


Prestige objects such as zoomorphic and anthropo-morphic neckrests , cups, adzes, combs and terracotta pipes  were carved specifically for the chiefs and were kept by them. Slit drums ending in a carved human head  were used by diviners.

Suku pair XIX century, Congo

A pair of exceptional Suku statues – XIX century, Congo

The 8o,000 Suku people have lived in the south- western part of the Democratic Republic of Congo(formerly Zaire) since the i6th century.

With the arrival of the Yaka and the Lunda in their territory, they were split into two autonomous groups. Their main economic resource is farming, but occasionally communal hunts are organized. Stylistically, their sculptures are characterized by an enlarged head with an almond-shaped mouth with incised teeth, a triangular nose and coffee-bean eyes, all set under an elaborate coiffure. The Suku carved large figures (3), which were used during fertility ceremonies, and crouching fetish figures [A] to which paraphernalia were attached.

These were used either as ancestor figures or as the personification of evil spirits. Large face masks and helmet masks surmounted by animal or human figures [C] were worn by dancers during certain initiation ceremonies. The southern Suku produced hairpins, neckrests and adzes with rounded features, unlike the northern Suku whose everyday objects were more angular in appearance —stylistically influenced by the Yaka.

The Tribal Arts of Africa: Surveying Africa’s Artistic Geography
Autor: Jean-Baptiste Bacquart
Publisher: Thames and Hudson Ltd; New edition edition (19 Aug. 2002)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0500282315
ISBN-13: 978-0500282311