Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Suku are a Bantu-speaking people living in hamlets and small villages scattered across the rolling savannas of the southwestern Democratic Republic of the Congo. They were traditionally organized in a pyramidal political system, with the royal lineage at the apex and, at the bottom, a number of smaller matrilineages averaging some thirty-five members. Subsistence is primarily agricultural, broadly supplemented by gathering, hunting, fishing and domestic animals; local mission and government employment and migratory labor are increasingly important. There is a strong division of labor by gender.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Africa --Central Africa


Congo, Democratic Republic of the

OWC Code


Number of Documents


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Number of Pages


Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication, and title where necessary.

The eHRAF Suku collection describes the Suku of the Kwango district of Bandundu province, Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly called Zaire) as observed by the anthropologist Igor Kopytoff from 1957 to 1959, supplemented by information ranging mainly from 1920 to 1970. The dominant theme of Kopytoff’s works is the combination of contradictory principles, including matrilineal descent with patrilocal residence, centralized kingship with broadly autonomous matrilineages, and recognition of the power of the dead over the wellbeing of the living with a lack of interest in comprehending how this occurs.

Each document in the collection is devoted to discussing the pragmatics of daily life through which Suku lineages and villages minimize and mitigate the disintegrating effects of these contradictions. Specific themes covered include family life, kinship and residential cycles (Kopytoff 1964, 1965, 1977), kinship rules and social relationships (Kopytoff 1961, 1971), beliefs about dead ancestors (Kopytoff 1981, 1991), religious rites (Kopytoff 1980) and the cultural meanings of womanhood and a gender-based division of labor (Kopytoff 1990).

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Teferi Adem

Kikanda – lineage – – use LINEAGES (613)

Kiloki – witchcraft – – use SORCERY (754)

Kita – periodic renovation ceremony held after installing a new chief – – use PURIFICATION AND ATONEMENT (783) with ORGANIZED CEREMONIAL (796)

Kembi – chain of killings among feuding lineages – – use INGROUP ANTAGONISMS (578) with LINEAGES (613)

Mukisi (pl. mikisi ) – medicine – use PHARMACEUTICALS (278) with THEORY OF DISEASE (753) and/or MAGIC (789)

Nzambi – creator god – – use SPIRITS AND GODS (776)

Utembongi – illicit sex – – use SEX AND MARITAL OFFENSES (684) with GENERAL SEX RESTRICTIONS (834)

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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