Seated female figure with child (pfemba)

Kongo peoples, Yombe peoples
late 19th–early 20th century
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General Description

Femininity, composure, intense concentration, and, most importantly, maternity are epitomized in Yombe mother and child figures. An upswept miter-like hairstyle or hat frames the mother's face, with its carefully composed expression. Her imported glass eyes "see" beyond this world to the spirit world. Beautifying features include filed teeth and scarifications on her neck, shoulders, and back. The kitanda string worn above her breasts signifies poise and order. She sits cross-legged on a box-throne and leans forward; she is strong but flexible, like a palm tree. Figures like this are believed to have been used in women's fertility cult rituals.

An infant lies on the mother's lap. Is it dead or alive? A clear indication of vitality would be an infant depicted nursing or with flexed knees. This mother's right hand covers the child's legs, making it impossible to determine the infant's condition.

Excerpt from

Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.

Web Resources