African Art

Body Mask (Kakuungo)

early 20th century

Wood, pigment, and wood fiber

37 × 24 × 16 in. (93.98 × 60.96 × 40.64 cm)
Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection
This body mask is probably a version of the giant awe-inspiring Kakuungo, who protected the youth in initiation camps from harmful forces. Kakuungo also held great power to heal in the event that complications developed after circumcision. Outside the initiation camps, these masks could intervene during healing rituals, particularly for impotence and sterility. Both protective and menacing, he was an ambivalent masking character. No other example of such a body mask is known; usually Kakuungo masks only consist of an oversize face with exaggerated cheeks and sometimes a prolonged, bulky chin.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
On view
Mbala or Suku
20th century

Philippe Guimiot, Brussels: unknown date-Nov. 19, 1981
Charles B. Benenson Collection, donated to Yale University Art Gallery in 2004


Susan Vogel and Jerry L. Thompson, Closeup: Lessons in the Art of Seeing African Sculpture from an American Collection and the Horstmann Collection, exh. cat. (New York: Museum for African Art, 1990), 170-171, fig. 102.

“Guimiot advertisement,” African Arts 15, no. 2 (1982): ill. inside back cover, ill.

“Guimiot advertisement,” Arts d’Afrique Noire (March 1982): advertisment on the back cover.

“Acquisitions, July 1, 2005–June 30, 2006,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2006): 222.

Frederick John Lamp, Amanda Maples, and Laura M. Smalligan, Accumulating Histories: African Art from the Charles B. Benenson Collection at the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2012), 304, ill.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.