Stool supported by kneeling female figure (kipona)

CULTURE:
Luba peoples
DATE:
late 19th–early 20th century
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General Description

Royal regalia of the Luba peoples include bow stands, spears, cups, staffs, and thrones. The throne, carved in the form of a caryatid stool called a kipona, is the king's most important symbol of his status. It is tangible proof that he is a descendant of Mbidi Kiluwe, the legendary 17th-century ruler who founded the kingdom. In fact, when the king sat on his caryatid throne, his feet did not touch the ground, but rested on his wife's lap. The kipona is also a receptacle for the king's spirit. Perhaps because they are so important, kipona are not always on public view, but covered with a white cloth and guarded by a palace official at a site well away from the village.

Although the Luba are a patrilineal society, most items of Luba regalia created from the 18th to the 20th century depict females rather than males. An explanation may lie in the fact that the female image represents more than the aesthetic ideal. Feminine imagery reminds one that women have played important roles in Luba history by wielding power behind the scenes as counselors, titleholders, priestesses, spirit mediums, ambassadors, and symbolic kings. Of course, from the male perspective, women also have that mysterious ability to bear children.

This royal stool depicts a female with a high forehead, heavy-lidded eyes, and a serene facial expression. Posed kneeling, she supports the seat with her head and hands. Her torso and thighs are decorated with carved symmetrical patterns. The back of her head reveals a cross-form hairstyle carved in high relief. Her image is a reminder that women have played important roles in Luba history by wielding power behind the scenes as counselors, title holders, priestesses, spirit mediums, ambassadors, and symbolic kings.

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), 82-83.

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