Cikunza 'The Father of Masks' 'The Father of Initiation'
Masks are worn by dancers during celebrations and important ceremonies such as initiations, weddings and funerals. They are also used in law-making by chiefs and rulers. There are many different spirits in African culture and each spirit has a different mask. This mask is particular to the Chokwe people and it represents an ancestral spirit called Cikunza. Cikunza is the spirit associated with hunting and the mask's shape is like an antelope's horn. Cikunza is also associated with fertility and shares its name with an African grasshopper that breeds quickly.
Cikunza is a key character in mukanda, the initiation ceremonies for boys. In the Chokwe culture, when boys reach puberty (around 13-16 years), they undergo rituals and ceremonies to prepare them for the change to adulthood. The Cikunza mask is usually worn by an older man with experience of the world, since he is responsible for teaching the boys the skills and knowledge they need for adult life, including hunting and issues around sex. The man takes care to disguise his appearance, so the mask is designed to covers his face while the fringe hides his neck. His body is painted and he wears a fringed skirt around his waist. When he / Cikunza dances he places his feet firmly apart on the ground and twirls his hips to create a fanning motion with the skirt. Cikunza sometimes carries a sword (mukwale) in his right hand and a spreading branch (citete) in his left. He uses these in the mukanda to scare off intruders to the camp because what the boys learn must remain secret.
The Cikunza character signals the beginning of the mukanda and collects the boys from their homes, leading them to a secret camp in the forest. This camp is called 'the place of dying' because it is believed that the boys 'die' and are reborn as men. There, the boys are circumcised. The main secret they learn is that the spirits are actually men wearing masks. In a solemn ceremony, they remove masks from the figures to reveal relatives, neighbours and other men from the village. The boys then swear an oath that they will never disclose this information to anyone who has not been initiated.