Two-mouthed cup with faces in relief

Yaka peoples
19th–20th century
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General Description

Shaped like a particular type of gourd sliced in half, this cup displays an incised face within concentric circles on each side. The slightly convex eyes are closed on one side and open on the other. The faces refer to the hemba nkisi, a wooden helmet mask that appeared during the boys' initiation into adult society. In the context of this cup, the faces ward off anyone not authorized to touch the vessel.

The only persons authorized to touch the cup and drink palm wine from it on ceremonial occasions were heads of families and regional chiefs who were vested with ancestral authority. When such leaders retired, this emblem of authority was given to a matrilineal successor. The smooth surface and warm coloring of this cup suggests it was used over several generations.

Excerpt from

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

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