Standing male ancestor figure (singiti)

Hemba peoples, Niombo group
late 19th–early 20th century
more object details

General Description

The Hemba peoples memorialized distinguished ancestors (e.g. chiefs, warriors, and heads of lineages) in sculpted wooden figures (sing. singiti; pl. lusingiti) that served as vessels for their spirits. A visual genealogical record, the figures were cared for by a designated member of the lineage, who arranged them in the order in which they lived. The caretaker periodically honored the singiti with animal sacrifices; in return, the ancestors protected their descendants.

While sculpted lusingiti are idealized images, each represents a specific Hemba ancestor whose spirit is contained therein. They are portrayed as bearded males standing erect on a circular base with shoulders square, arms held close to the body, and hands resting on either side of a protruding abdomen with a herniated navel. With eyes closed, the ancestor figure displays a serene expression. The crossed lobes of the cruciform hairstyle, which are arranged over a square of woven raffia, evoke the four cardinal directions of the universe as well as the crossroads where the realm of the living and dead intersect.

This singiti is adorned with a necklace of expensive imported blue glass beads, which, like cowrie shells, were a form of currency before the introduction of coins and paper money. He was originally clothed in a woven raffia wrapper that was draped over the strip of leather that remains.

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), 212-213.

Related Multimedia

Collections smARTphone video; Roz Walker discusses Standing male ancestor figure (singiti) (DMA collection 1974.SC.41); Democratic Republic of the Congo, Hemba peoples, Niombo group
Learn about the Hemba peoples.