Kneeling male figure

CULTURE:
Kongo peoples, Yombe peoples
DATE:
late 19th or early 20th century
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General Description

The precise context in which this kneeling male figure was used is not clearly understood, but it can be assumed that it was associated with ancestor veneration. The knotted pineapple-fiber skullcap (mpu) the figure wears identifies him as a chief or other person of elevated rank in Yombe society. He kneels on one knee in an attitude of respect while clapping his hands in honor of the one who is addressed or petitioned. His face is animated: he appears as if he is talking with the viewer at whom, or perhaps through whom, he stares with porcelain-covered eyes. Imported porcelain, like pieces of mirror, was rare and allows him to see to the other world. Enshrined in a memorial house in the cemetery, the figure—which contains the spirit of an illustrious ancestor—receives his descendants who appeal to him for protection, advice or answers, and good fortune. A medium between the world of the living and the world of the dead, the figure respectfully kneels before those spirits and deities who will aid his descendants. [1]

[1] Robert F. Thompson, personal communication with Dr. Roslyn Walker, 23 April 2008.

Excerpt from

  • Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 208-209.