TRIBAL AFRICAN ART
SUKU (BASUKU) (also see related Yaka and Teke)
The 80,000 Suku people have lived in the south-western part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo since the 16th century. Their main economic resource is farming, but occasionally communal hunts are organized. The Suku of the north have statues, the mulomba: these have one hand outstretched to solicit a gift. The sculptures wear the hairdo typical of the chiefs of the territory and lineage. The Suku also carve figures, which are used during fertility ceremonies and kneeling or crouching fetish figures. These are used either as ancestor figures or as the personification of the evil spirit.
The masks fulfill several functions: some serve as protection against evil forces, others ensure the fertility of the young initiate. Their role consists in frightening the public, healing the sick, and casting spells. The charm masks of the initiation specialist do not "dance." Their appearance must engender terror, especially the kakuungu, with its swollen cheeks, massive features, and protruding chin. The Suku also used hemba helmet-masks. These are cut from a cylinder of wood, the hairdo often surmounted by a person or animal. These masks are supposedly an image of the community of deceased elders, notably the chiefs of the maternal lineage. They are used to promote success in the hunt, to heal, and to punish criminals. They were also worn by dancers during certain initiation ceremonies.