Standing male figure (mbulenga)

Lulua peoples
late 19th–early 20th century
more object details

General Description

Small sculpted figures holding a vessel in one hand are called mbulenga, which means "for beauty, for good luck" in the Lulua language, and were believed to offer general well-being. The figure's reddish-brown patina is the result of being coated with ngula (red powder from the camwood tree mixed with water). Its power comes from the contents of the vessel, which included the hair of a female albino (considered a blessing by the Lulua), the bark of a sacred tree (mutshi muabi), and red feathers from the tail of a gray parrot.

The hairstyle, clothing, ornamentation, and scarification that were in fashion at the time are detailed. An individual so adorned was considered bwimpe—that is, beautiful, not only physically but morally as well. Scarification is produced by making cuts in the skin, which must heal properly to leave smooth and shiny raised scars. An individual whose skin did not heal properly was not considered to be a beautiful and moral person. To give themselves a healthy glow, individuals applied a mixture of red earth, oil, and kaolin to their bodies.[1]

[1] Timmermans, Paul. “Essai des typologie de la sculpture des Bena Luluwa du Kasai.” Africa-Tervuren 12, no. 1 (1966): 17–27. pp. 17-18.

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), 152-153.