Two squatting figures decorate the finials; one is elderly, bearded, and scarified, while the other is fresh-faced and young. At the lower left rung, two men carry a slit drum; between the caryatid figures supporting the chair’s front legs appear three men; the central splat has incised diagonal patterns called fuliko. At the center, what is possibly a pointy-nosed European’s face replaces the more habitual chikungu masker.
Inspired by late 17th century Portuguese prototypes called cadeira de sola, this chair exemplifies the cross-cultural hybridization readily found in African art. Above all, chairs like this represent the authority and supreme spiritual power of its owners: chiefs, elders, diviners, or circumcision specialists. When presiding over local disputes, dignitaries leaned on citwamo ca mungu while sitting on animal hides.
This hour-glass shaped stool is supported by two caryatid figures who sit in a pose of lamentation—crouched with head in hands. Scarified patterned abstracted tears spill from their lower eyelids. Brass studs adorn the perimeter of the stool’s seat, base, and figures. Both figures wear strings of black, red and white beads around their necks.
Stools like this rarely come out in public. At stately events, stools have animal skins over them, concealing the iconography from view. This stool is carved by a songi or master court sculptor. The power and public secrecy of the stool is such that songi carve royal seats in seclusion away from non-initiates and women. While sculpting, professional carvers strive for minimal design or utombo, which can capture the complexities of Chokwe cultural values.
Cantilever chair frame formed by a continuous line of thin steel tubing (connected under the seat with an additional piece of tubular steel), with separate lengths of black canvas wrapped around it at the seat and back.