Ritual container in the form of a standing male figure

Chokwe peoples
19th century
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General Description

This standing male figure with a hollow torso—revealed by removing its head—once held the medicine used to activate supernatural powers. The figure's right hand was accidentally broken and replaced by a blade, suggesting the regenerative abilities of the chief and his ancestors. Its beard signifies age and wisdom, and, in its original context, the horns projecting from the head would be filled with powerful substances. The figure wears copper chief's bracelets, which mark his authority.

The Chokwe believed that their chief, or mwanangana (owner of the land), was God's representative on the earth, the intermediary between the world of humans and the world of ancestral and nature spirits. They ensured their peoples' well-being by keeping the balance between those realms. This required the spiritual support of the ancestors, which could be activated with the potent substances in the sculpted container.

Adapted from

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

  • Bonnie Pittman, ed., Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012).

  • Ramona Austin, "Standing male figure (mohamba)", in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection,_ _ed. Suzanne Kotz (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 1997), 159.