Half figure of a man

Tsogo peoples
late 19th or early 20th century
more object details

General Description

The Tsogo used half figures like this one as reliquary guardians and ritual objects. In the former context, they were placed in the reliquary; in the latter, they were placed on the floor of a temple during "dramatic nocturnal rituals."

Rendered in a seminaturalistic style, the upper half of this figure has an oval head, pronounced eyebrows, a long wedge-shaped nose, and open mouth. Its hands, typically placed at either side of the body, are above the navel. Distinguishing features include prominent ears, traces of white pigment (probably kaolin) on the body, and metal-covered eyes. White pigment signifies the spirit world, peace, and healing. Some half figures display a vertical strip of metal on the forehead as a means to empower the figure to repel evil spirits; the reflective metal in the eyes may be the artist's innovation or it may be a convention that allows this vigilant sentry to see beyond this world.

Adapted from

  • Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.
  • Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 204-205.