Carved wooden human figure attached to an animal's horn. A plug or mushroom shaped projection extends from the human figure's head.
Nkisi is a generic term for a class of power objects. These objects are employed as solutions to social and physical problems. They are ritually charged objects, able to facilitate movement of spirits between differnet points of existence.
A stylized human head with an elaborate coiffure, sitting atop a larger animal head with scarification marks below the eyes, tops a well-carved staff with angular handle and a zig-zag carved pattern below the handle. The eyes of both figures are set in shallow cavities and appear squinted or closed.
Finely carved staffs (called "kooko" or "nhkuumbu" in the local language) display their use as symbols of a chief's authority. Reference to leadership and the elders is also made in the variations in coiffure and headgear that represent the distinctive hairstyles of previous generations of chiefs. Among the Yaka, living elders and chiefs were regarded as repositories of supernatural powers, who can protect against evil as well as withdraw their protection in case of disobedience or disrespect.
Small, carved male figure, seated atop a block, with legs crossed. The naturalism with which the expressive face is carved, the high crested coiffure (or chiefly cap?) and the progressive foreshortening of the body show the importance given to the head in Yombe aesthetics. The figure's eyes are mirrored glass, and the upper body, face and head are studded with brass tacks. A slight vertical crack can be seen at the figure's sternum.
The Yombe figure was identified for UMMA by Allen Roberts and Mary (Polly) Nooter Roberts. There was a discrepency regarding the dating of the piece: the export paperwork said "circa 1830", but the dealer's catalogue said early 19th c. When asked to help resolve the dating, Polly Nooter Roberts replied: "As for the Yombe figure, I can tell you with certainty that it is NOT early 20th century, and is definitely from the 19th century, if not earlier. I cannot confirm the 1830 date, but I would be more inclined to believe that than the early 20th century. So, I think you can confidently say 19th century, and perhaps you can go ahead and use the paperwork that says 1830 since that was supplied with it." See e-mail to Carole McNamara, 1/12/00.
This figure is an idealized representation of an honored ancestor. Though separated by death, ancestors in Yombe culture remain an active part of the living world. Figures such as this were displayed in shrines to commemorate important individuals and to seek their protection, intercession and good will.
Small wooden figure with naturalistic human face engulfed in layers of multi-media attachments including animal hides, medicine packs, and a turban bound in feathers. Figure holds the tip of a curved piece of wood in its mouth, the other end of which terminates in its clutched right hand. A round mirrior is embdedded in the figure's "belly." The hides and fibers creating the “skirt” are intact, making it unique.
Ritual specialists called banganga (plural of nganga) use minkisi (plural of nkisi) as divination tools. With the help of incantations, whistle sounds, claps, and other interactive gestures, ritual practitioners call ancestral spirits from the underworld to inhabit sculptures like this one as a means of resolving social, political, or personal problems, which befall communities or individuals.
Elaborately carved staff with angular forms along the shaft and topped with a figurine with a rounded head, heart-shaped face and two stylized arms resting on the stomach. A large Z-shaped handle is carved in the middle of the shaft, with a series of cubes and conical forms above and beneath it.
The attribution of artworks to a single ethnic group is difficult in a region as diverse as that surrounding the Ubangi River, bordering the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. Like many similar regions in Africa, the Ubangi River area has for centuries been characterized by "open borders" that allow for the easy movement of people and objects. The carved figure topping this stick represents the general characteristics of a regional Ubangi style. Among the Ngbaka, as well as neighboring peoples, tall sticks were used to strike the ground during initiation rituals: the noise would warn people that the male initiates were approaching. Female dancers would also brandish carved, notched sticks called "kangala" on the occasion of the initiation of girls.
A poised, naturalistic male figure sits on a stool, holding an egg in his right hand, his left hand resting on his left knee. The head is round, almost egg-shaped, with a high, sloping forehead rising from pronounced eyebrows. The eyes are almond-shped, the nost long and slender, the mouth a small straight line. The neck is long and ringed. Its surface is smooth, and carefully finished, golden brown in color, though worn or mottled in places.
Seated on a royal stool--considered the soul of the Asante people--with an egg in his hand, this figure depicts a proverb that cautions the powerful to be firm but prudent in their rule: “To be a ruler is like holding an egg in the hand; if it is pressed too hard it breaks, but if not held tightly enough it may slip and smash on the ground.” A popular motif of the Asante court, it was often used to decorate the tops of linguist staffs, which were emblems of authority used by the ruler’s spokesmen during public ceremonies. However, this particular figure--carved by the acclaimed artist Osei Bonsu--is what Bonsu himself called a “parlor piece,” that is, a genre of work commissioned by local Asante and expatriate elites to decorate their homes.
Wood carved face with geometric, pseudo-human facial features, grooved, bilaterial striations of surface, protruding, square pursed mouth and horizontal slit eyes with protruding eyebrows. Faint traces of white kaolin in grooves; a flat wooden crest extends from the nose along the curve of the forehead, terminating in feathered headdress; thick raffia fiber beard attached around face. mask shows much wear with nicks and scraptes on wood surface; feathered headdress and fiber beard are brittle.
Kifwebe masks were danced by men's secret associations (bwadi bwa kifwebe) once active in Luba and Songye communities of the DRC. The mystical, transformative powers embodied in these masks were used as a form of social control, aiding in the collection and redistribution of wealth, and in judicial affairs. Masks were also danced at the funerals of chiefs and dignitaries, to honor ancestors, and in some regions, to dispel malevolent occult forces. There are male and female types. UMMA mask is female. Female masks were thought to enhance fertility and assure smooth transitions in the cycle of life.
Face mask made of wood, covered in white kaolin; face has round, bulging forehead, deep set narrow eyes, small round ears, fiber beard, open rectangular mouth and pointed teeth; basketry weave that held mask on the dancer’s head is visible at back and sides; raffia attachment on top of head frayed and missing.
In pre-colonial Sala Mpasu society authority was vested in members of the Matambu warriors’ society who could secure the rights to wear an array of important masks. The kasangu mask was made of wood and represented a warrior. Covered in kaolin, a fine white clay, it is distinguished by its open rectangular mouth and pointed teeth—a Sala Mpasu mark of beauty.
Mask is made entirely of blackish-brown dyed and molded raffia fiber; face has bulging forehead, deeo set narrow eyes, bulbous nose, and raffia “beard.” Top of head has cone-like crest of small fiber knots.
In pre-colonial Sala Mpasu society authority was vested in members of the Matambu warriors’ society who could secure the rights to wear an array of important masks. The most prestigious of these were the idangani, made entirely of woven fiber. These masks represented a husband and wife pair. This mask is female, identified by small fiber knobs that recall a popular woman’s hairstyle.
Goldweight in the shape of a square base, bearing a solid, undecorated swastika form.
The shape known as swastika in the West, and variations of this form, is a common motif on the goldweights (and other objects) used and produced by Akan-speaking peoples since the 15th century. Informants from contemporary Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire give a number of interpretations for this form. It is sometimes called "asosa," or "monkey's hand," because of its supposed resemblance to the footprint of the colubus monkey. Alternatively, the form can be called "dindje blafou," or "crossed crocodiles," which refers to the idea that it is a stylized rendering of a common Akan motif and proverb: two crocodiles sharing one stomach. Finally, informants and scholars have interpreted the swastika-form and its derivatives as variations of the bow-armed cross, referred to as "nkyinkyim," which is also used as a shaved hairstyle by the maidservants of a queen-mother.
Goldweight in the shape of a man with a large head, tilted slightly backwards, on a thick, heavy neck, and topped by hair or headgear in the shape of a ball; the face has protruding eyes and nose, and the mouth holds a snake-like animal above a small beard (goatee). The figure is wearing a loincloth and holds a short stick under the left arm as well as two small jars in the hands.
Goldweights are small objects cast from brass used to weigh out quantities of gold and gold dust. They are cast using a lost-wax casting technique, wherein wax is sculpted into the desired shape and a mold is pressed around the wax model. Then, the mold is heated and the wax drained out, leaving a void in the shape of the original wax model. Liquid brass is poured into the mold and allowed to set before the caster cracks the mold open and retrieves the finished goldweight.
From about 1400 to 1900, the Asante and related Akan-speaking peoples of Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire used small, portable weights for measuring out units of gold dust. At first, the gold weights were primarily geometric, following North African, European and Middle Eastern examples. From the 18th century onwards, figurative weights became popular, although geometric weights continued to be made too. This weight is a figurative weight, but it is not clear whether there was a particular meaning (often in the form of a proverb) attached to this piece.
Goldweight in the shape of an upside-down, U-shaped fish, of unknown species, with a bifurcated tail, a series of small spiraling circles along its spine, a long neck with horizontal incisions and a stylized human head with eyes, nose and mouth.
This is an example of a figurative gold weight, as they were used among the Akan-speaking peoples of Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire to weigh out units of gold dust. Representations of fish are common in Akan gold weights; this particular example might represent an imaginary fish or the invisible spirit of the water itself. As a rule, the various spirits, gods, and divinities inhabiting the Akan universe, such as the spirit of the water, have no material form and cannot be seen. However, they have the ability to take on a human or animal form (or a combination of both) and make themselves visible to privileged members of the village community on special occasions.