A wooden staff, covered with beads in solid colors (red, blue, green and orange) outlined in black against a background of white beads, with a sideways M pattern in the middle of the shaft on either side. A stylized head of open beadwork tops the staff, followed by a tight-fitting necklace-like band with a clasp in orange and green and a white band, above solid red and blue rings.
The colors and design of the staff are the same as those seen on much of the beadwork and murals made by Ndebele women of the Transvaal region in Southern Africa, with solid colors outlined in black, organized in geometric motifs that are arranged symmetrically. At the turn of the 19th century, Ndebele women turned to the art of beadwork as a way to assert their ethnic identity in the face of forced displacement and oppression by the South African government. Since the 1970s, a new policy of forced displacements of Ndebele people has led to a great decline in the production of beadwork. Previously, beaded staffs were danced at weddings and also appeared at initiation ceremonies. The red and blue rings near the top of this particular staff are miniature versions of jewelry known as "cholwane" that women wear on their limbs and as neckrings.
Drawing of militaristic angels approaching two men fighting at sea. One angels holds a bow and above and to the right are three more angels carrying clouds. On the left of the image is a serpent curled around a tree.
The sword is long and slightly curved; the metal smith's name is engraved on the metal handle. The scabbard is painted with black laquer with image of samurai and cherry tree. He wears a jacket, pants, a straw hat and a sword, holding a brush, possibly writing a poem on a piece of paper hanging from the tree. The figure and tree are painted with rose-color and gold laquer.
Long swords (tachi) were the most important belongings for samurai, almost as equal to their lives; as many tragic stories attest, samurai could commit suicide when his sword was taken, stolen, or lost. The samurai in the laquered scabbard engages in a traditional literal activity, versing a poem in promptu. The combination of samurai and the literal practice may suggest the way of samurai" (bushidô) ideal: "exel in both civil and military pursuits" (bunbu ryôdô).
A stylized animal head, with an elongated open mouth and horizontally positioned, flat ears, sits atop a staff with decorative carvings along the shaft.
The form of this staff is reminiscent of that of Senufo horizontal masks, which represent a composite image of a number of different elements. Among the various ethnic groups identified with the general term Senufo, staffs such as this one stand as emblems of the farming skills of their owners. Young men would compete in hoeing competitions as a way to prepare for their entrance into the farmers's secret society called Poro. A carved pole would be placed near the head of the line of young men, next to the most succesful hoers. Winners of the competition would receive a carved wooden or an iron staff to commemorate their success; these staffs would be proudly displaced at later agricultural competitions and ultimately at the owner's funeral.
Plaque in the form of a snarling lion's face holding a double-edged "severn star" (here only three of the seven stars are depicted as large dots connected by lines) sword in its mouth and ornamented with a red octagon containing the characters for "daqi" surrounded by eight trigrams on its forehead.
This plaque would be mounted above a door to protect a house against malign influences. Each motif exerts a strong influence against evil: the lion is the fearsome king of beasts; the "seven stars" represent the Great Dipper, one of the most powerful asterisms in Daoist heaven; the "seven-star" sword is used in Daoist exorcisms to expe demons; "daqi" is the "Supreme Ultimate" of Daoist beliefs and in conjunction with the eight trigrams (combinations of broken and unbroken lines) is common in good omen designs.
Elaborately carved staff with, from the top: a male figure wearing Western-style clothes, with painted eyes, eyebrows, mouth, moustache, hat and clothes, sitting on a simple stool, resting his hands on his knees; a U-shaped snake on one side and a mortar on the other; a pair of a male and a female figure on either side (the male is standing on one leg, bending the other at the knee to make a triangle); a dark black spherical form; a row of three turtles on one side and two salamanders and a frog on the other; and finally three outstretched snakes (painted yellow, brown and red, respectively), one of them eating a small frog.
In the precolonial kingdom of Kongo, royal staffs (called "mvwala," and often--unlike here-- topped by ivory carvings) showed the authority of the ruler and his control over occult forces. They were used primarily during judicial procedings and rituals. In this particular example, the European-style clothes worn by the male figure reflect the gifts and trade items that were exchanged by Kongolese and Portugues rulers and traders since the 1500s. The artistic representation of these items continued after the end of the actual trade and indicates the high status of the owner of the staff.
Short stick with a dark shiny patina, topped by a standing, male figure, wearing a European-style suit and brimmed hat, carrying a small box in his hands; followed by a standing female figure, unclothed, carrying a child on her back. Below are smaller figures, on either side respectively: a keeling figure, a turtle, and a bird; a brid, a turtle, a ram's horn and an ornamental motif, possibly a cross.
Among the Kongo peoples, carved staffs (often--unlike here-- topped by ivory carvings) conveyed the ruler's political and spiritual powers and responsibilities. At the height of the Kongo kingdom, rulers used staffs known as "mvwala" that drew on the power of the earth and the ancestors to aid them in governing. In the 19th and 20th centuries, staffs were being produced for a much wider audience, including European traders and colonial officials. Simultaneously, the iconography of the staffs is adapted to include foreign motifs, such as the European-style formal attire worn by the male figure on top of this staff.
Janus heads with elaborate headgear top a staff with a long, thin shaft and broader hourglass-shaped sections with a stylized human head in the middle of each one. The staff is covered with carved geometrical patterns of triangles, lozenges and lines, and ends in a metal-coiled tip at the bottom; it is heavy and has a shiny black patina.
Luba staffs are like maps or historic documents that tell the story of the genealogy of a particular leader, the history of his lineage and its relations to the precolonial Luba kingdom. No two staffs are the same, because no two chiefs or locations share the exact same history. The Janus heads on a staff of office like this one represent the twin spirits of Luba kingship, Mpanga and Banze. The long, thin shaft of the staff represents the wilderness, while the two broad sections indicate specific "dibulu," or administrative royal centers, with the heads pointing to particular locales of rich natural resources (and to the earth spirits guarding such wealth). As a whole, the staff records the journey from the royal center at the top to the local leader's own village at the bottom.