objective of divination is to expose anything that
might constitute a threat to the social order.
Since everyone in Abálambú’s family considered
him to be a madman, he had no desire to teach
the divination process he had discovered to any
of his peers. Only Likóndó, his son-in-law and of
the Okaƃe clan, believed in his revelation, and he
was initiated into it by Abálambú. Likóndó became
Abálambú’s offi cial successor, and he in turn
recruited more disciples. Likóndó and his successors
further developed their form of divination
and ultimately founded an association, or brotherhood,
called the ƃabánkunda, and this caused earlier
forms of divination that had been individually
practiced to lose much of their prestige. Later on,
members of Abálambú’s Oƃúsé clan were also initiated.
During our stay in the area in the early 1970s,
Angɔní, a member of this clan who lived at kilometer
mark 76 of the Ituri Road, was considered to
be Abálambú’s legitimate successor, but the entire
organization of the group’s functions remained in
the hands of members of the Okaƃe clan and, more
specifi cally, with members of the Kεnεngɔa lineage.
Likóndó was a member of the Nsɔmƃei lineage,
but after his only grandson converted to Protestantism,
the leadership of the ƃabánkunda passed
to the Kεnεngɔa lineage, which was, at least in
part, rooted at kilometer mark 72 of the Ituri
Road. The other part of Kεnεngɔa lineage inhabited
Mpέnέluta, a village located 40 kilometers
north of Lubutu, where Musibule, a great-grandson
of Likóndó’s, still lived when we were there.
According to the elders who had known him in
their youth, Likóndó died sometime between 1910
and 1920. Thus Abálambú must have lived in the
second half of the preceding century.
Two important things can be deduced from these
facts. The fi rst is that the use of masks in Komo
culture is relatively recent, and the second is that
these masks were introduced from the northeast, a
more or less peripheral Komo area that lies at the
border between them and the neighboring
WHAT THE MASKS REPRESENT
The pair of masks appears only at
important ritual events, most notably
when an initiate is officially confirmed
in his newly acquired functions
or when, in memory of a deceased diviner,
the cycle of rituals (ƃokúa) is
celebrated in his honor. It should be
noted that a commemoration of the
latter kind generally goes hand in
hand with a new initiation.
Not every diviner has nsembú masks.
They are the exclusive prerogative of
individuals who have direct affi liation
with one of the fi rst initiates and thus
play a leading role in the ƃabánkunda.
The masks, along with the barkcloth
garments (nsɔkɔ) that are worn by the
dancers, are moved from village to village for these
ceremonies. The diviner who owns them entrusts
them to a young man in his family who, on the
afternoon after he has been invested, must take
them to the village where the rites will be held and
where the group’s leaders will have already assembled.
The masks and the barkcloth garments are
carefully wrapped, since they must not be seen by
non-initiates outside the context of their ritual performance.
Generally speaking, the masks are called upon
to personify the spirit of divination, marking the
distance between that realm and any purely human
enterprise. They do not have a direct relationship
with the specifi c people or beings linked to their origins,
such as Abálambú, Likóndó, and the abúlá,
but rather serve as representations of all those who
FIG. 4 (below): “Nkunda
From A. Moeller, Les grandes lignes
des migrations des Bantous de la
Province Orientale, Mémoires de
l’Institut Royal Colonial Belge, vol. VI,
Brussels, 1936, unnumbered plate.
© MRAC, Tervuren, inv. EP.0.0.7083.
FIG. 5 (right): “Initiation
masks of the Bakomo.”
From M. Huet & R. Delmarcelle,
Congo, Offi ce International de
Librairie, Brussels, 1958, p. 132.
© MRAC, Tervuren, inv. EP.0.0.3404.
FIG. 6 : (far right): Detail
of Komo mask described in
fi gure 21.
Tribal Art magazine archives.