Above photo: Typical ward in a Salampasu village. In the foreground, a communal gathering place for men (Photo, Biebuyck, 1957).

Note based on observations and readings

In the fifties, the Salampasu lived in Luiza territory, in high altitude savannahs. They are known in the litterature as fierce fighters and head-hunters, for whom ritual suicide by hanging was frequent (Jobart 1925). This territory is also inhabited by southern Ket, Mbala and Lwalwa (Pruitt 1973). Together with other such decentralized groups as Lwalwa, Kongo-Dinga and Mbabane, they are globally called Akawaand (people living downstream).

The term Salampasu is perhaps derived from specific frontal tattoos, called grasshopper wings, an explanation questioned by Bogaerts (1950), even though mpasu means grasshopper. In 1925, the administrator Jobart refers to mpasu as meaning “ailes de sauterelles,” a term that was extended to other groups by the colonial administrations. The name was originally reserved for the population in Luiza showing the characteristic tattoos and was applied south and westward to include groups known as Akawaand (a name of Ruund/Lunda origin). Ceyssens (Akawaand… 1979) notes that, before independence, groups such as Ndombi, Mwanda-Kayiisu were usually known as Salampasu of the Lueta river, but they referred to themselves as Mbala; inhabitants (known asd Kalaala-Diboko) of the area between Luiza-Luluwa (rivers) assumed the name Ket(e); those of the area between Lueta and Luluwa claimed the name of Salampasu. The administrator Guillot (ms 1955) divides the region in Luisa (situated between the Kabelekese and Lulua rivers) into three parts: in the North are the Asalampasu of the secteur Basala-Mpasu of the Luisa river; in the south and east are the Ejikulu a Kapia and the Ejikulu na Meya (there is no boundary between them; cf. also Bogaerts who makes the same distinction).

They are northern neigbors of the Lunda and have no central political authority. However Wilmet (1958) p. 329 speaks about “a grand chef” called Ntulume, who pays (symbolic) tribute to the Mwaantayaav of the Lunda. Note that after 19th C. invasions, the Salampasu received the protection of the Lunda by paying tribute. Traditions state that the female ancestress Pasu Mukishi had six daughters, founders of the six mipanga, dispersed matri-clans. Others say that they are divided into seven clans. Residence patterns are patri-filial.

The Lunda paramount and his spokesmen told me that there is no real frontier or land limit between the Lunda and the Salampasu, but that something like a no-man’s land separates the two groups.

In each community, authority is vested in a “Kalamba Kambanji,” a wealthy man who became prominent because of personal entrepreneurship (e.g., success in hunting and gathering booty in battle). These men cannot inherit their wealth nor pass it on to their children.

The Salampasu have warrior societies (mungongo), which maintain their independence. These warrior societies are based on a regional level and always incorporate members of all six matriclans within the region; accordingly, they are divided into six sections (Pruitt 1973 p.) To see or to wear masks (or to become maskers?), one must be initiated. Initiations start with tshikiti for children from 8-10 years old. On this occasion, before they are circumcised, in a secluded place, the mask Samandamulama appears and reveals himself to the children as “a dead person emerging from the earth.” As they grow up, they undergo numerous initiations, such as idangani and ibuku. Bogaerts (1950, p. 394) mentions several mask names without describing the type of mask, but sometimes indicating the context in which it occurs, such as Sandondo wa Kateleli in the Kabulukutu dance of women, or Muninka, Idangani, Ibuku in the Matambu and Utshumbu dances and at funerals of famous head-hunters. In fact, Matambu dances are only held for head-hunters.

Masks intervene in various life crisis ceremonies (from birth to death), they entertain and are active in the solution of crises.

Following his puberty initiation (at about the age of eight), a young man earns junior status by joining a local warrior association (mungongo), and then takes residence with an established Kabamba Kambanji, who, depending on his prestige, can attract many such young men. Later, he joins other organizations and gains the right to wear the mask(s) associated with each of the mask-using institutions.

Masks symbolize rank and title within the society and the aim is to acquire as many masks as possible to wear them on diverse occasions (Pruitt, ibid.)

It would seem that most mask societies are not ranked, they can be joined in any order; but in each instance to join the society, payment of heavy fees is necessary.

  • The Idangani society has a male and a female woven mask; the male mask has a conical hat and long fringes of raphia below cheeks and nose; the female mask has large fiber knobs (female hairstyle). The two represent husband and wife. The right to purchase this pair is passed on from father to son in certain family groups (most other transfers of property and rights are matrilineal; Cameron, 1992, p.12).
  • The Ibuku society: has the kasangu mask; in wood with bulging head, pointed teeth; the mask may have woven topknots in cane on the head. Before one obtains the right to wear this mask, one must kill an ennemy secretly or in battle. The costume is of knotted raffia cord, fiber strips and skins that form a skirt. At the waist, the masker wears a sword with one monkey tail attached for each man killed.
  • Having acquired the right to wear a kasangu mask, the initiate can now acquire the right to get the muninka mask of the Ibuku society. The mask is in wood and copper (Lunda influence?the copper imported is very expensive). The mask dances only at the funeral of a very important kalamba (See Cameron,. Reclusive Rebels. An Approach to the Sala Mpasu and their Masks. Mesa College Art Gallery 1992)