GENEVA – The walls of Kabemba, a new business in the Berry House, 227 S. Third St., Geneva, are full of masks so striking that they all seem to look directly at anyone who comes into the store.
Next to them are bright batik prints of rhinoceros, a lion and elephants.
And near the front window are giraffes, some carved by the business owner, Kabemba Louis Kasongo, himself.
Kasongo is from the Democratic Republic of Congo, from which he, his wife and five children fled because of a war in 2006. They lived in the Osire refugee camp in Namibia for seven years before coming to the U.S., Kasongo said.
His family came first, living in Aurora for the past three years; Kasongo said he joined them eight months ago.
Two months ago, he opened the store.
“This was my business for [a] long, long time, 20 years … ,” Kasongo said, “in Congo and in Namibia, especially in Namibia.
The items in his store are specific to various tribes and come from different countries in Africa, Kasongo said.
The striking batik prints, for example, are made by the Shona tribe of Zimbabwe, he said.
One grouping of masks with a distinctive pattern on the forehead – known as scarification – were made by the vast Chokwe tribe who are in Congo, Angola and Zambia, Kasongo said.
“Each one has its own meaning. This is a Chokwe mask,” he said, pointing to a pattern on the forehead of the mask.
“That is how you know the sign for Chokwe. Each is … for [a] different ceremony. That is for when a boy is circumcised, they took him to the bush. And from the bush there, he comes [back] after a month, the wound is completely finished. And when [the boy comes] to the village, there is a big party. And that big party is where they wear these masks.”
Kasongo’s store also carries a variety of African drums, some made by the Chokwe and others by the Djembe from Ghana.
He also has a large, heavy door, carved with intricate designs of the Mbunda tribe in Angola.
Though most of the store’s stock is decidedly African, the store also features other items, such as some modern art prints and a model of Kitty Hawk.
“We have to have other things – we can’t be just Africa,” Kasongo said.