Cap mask

image for Cap mask
Label Text
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. The superstructure figures, a woman giving birth on this mask, may make more overt statements about sexuality and fertility. 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.
Cap mask composed of a white wood face with orange elliptical eyes and incised teeth; a small horizontal visor protrudes on top of the forehead, and there is a vertical handle under the contracted jaw. The conical superstructure is fabricated with cloth stretched over an armature and adorned with blue, orange, white and red geometric patterns. The central spire supports two horizontal disks and the figure of a woman giving birth, supported from behind by a midwife. A skirt of raffia fringes edges the mask.
Eliot Elisofon, New York, -- to 1973
Exhibition History
Black Womanhood: Images, Icons, and Ideologies of the African Body, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth, New Hampshire, April 1-August 10, 2008, Davis Museum, Wellesley College, September 17-December 14, 2008, San Diego Museum of Art, January 31-April 26, 2009
Celebration: A World of Art and Ritual, Renwick Gallery, Washington D.C., March 17, 1982-July 10, 1983
Face Coverings: Primitive Masks to Space Helmets, Museum of Contemporary Crafts of the American Crafts Council, New York, September 30, 1970-January 3, 1971
Published References
Smithsonian Institution. Office of Folklife Programs and Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art. 1982. Celebration: A World of Art and Ritual. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, p. 111, no. 124, illustrated p. 27.
Thompson, Barbara. 2008. Black Womanhood: Images, Icons, and Ideologies of the African Body. Hanover: Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College with Seattle: University of Washington Press, no. 28.
Credit Line
Bequest of Eliot Elisofon
See more items in
National Museum of African Art Collection
Mid-20th century
Object number
Yaka artist
Male use
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Wood, raffia, cloth, pigment, paint
H x W x D: 61 x 40 x 45cm (24 x 15 3/4 x 17 11/16in.)
National Museum of African Art