Chikwekwe’s Hornbill Mask
This Chokwe mask represents Chikwekwe, an ancestral spirit that takes the form of an arboreal
hornbill of the same name. Chokwe ancestral masquerades, called akishi (singular mukishi in Angola;
or makish/likishi in Zambia), are normally performed in the context of mukanda, the initiation into adulthood for their boys. Chikwekwe is one of
several akishi characters, with different physical
and behavioral attributes, that perform publicly to
spiritually aide the initiates and to educate audiences
about matters that range from moral values
to religion and cosmology or worldview.
Chikwekwe is endowed with extraordinary powers.
Hornbills announce sunrise but are symbolically
perceived as creatures of the night, achieving
supernatural feats in a world to which very few
humans have access. The more ambiguous attributes
of Chikwekwe, linked to hidden and invisible
things (darkness/before sunrise), connect the character
with a very secretive initiation of adult men
known as mungonge.
A Chokwe friend, Mr. Bernard Mukuta Samukinji,
said the following about Chikwekwe masks:
‘although young people do these things for
mukanda, in fact the mask [Chikwekwe] is one of
extreme supernatural power, and one that is only
performed privately by men in the evening hours’
when ominous beings that threaten and torture
mungonge initiates are active; before daybreak.
Chikwekwe may thus be treated as a rather ambiguous
ancestral character that indicates access to
extraordinary powers. The symbolic counterpart of
the hornbill is the stork, Nkumbi, also performed as
a mask character. The stork is associated with daylight
and defined as a solar bird that announces the
evening. Lunda, Luvale, Luchazi, Mbunda and other
Chokwe-related peoples in Angola, Zambia and the
Democratic Republic of Congo also create akishi
with wild (hornbill, stork) as well as domestic
(guinea fowl, rooster) bird types.
• Manuel Jordan
• Arts of Africa and Oceania. Highlights from the Musée Barbier-Mueller, musée Barbier-Mueller & Hazan (eds.), 2007: p. 224.