Silk throughout the African continent, £10.99
Height: 54.500 cm
Gift of Emil Torday
Africa, Oceania, Americas
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Ndop, wooden carving of King Shyaam aMbul aNgoong
Kuba-Bushoong, Probably late 18th century
From the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire)
Kuba kings were sometimes commemorated by 'portraits' that were carved to encapsulate principles of kingship. However, unlike portraiture in European art, these figures, called ndop, were not actual representations of the deceased king but a carving of his spirit, produced after the death of the king. Individual rulers are identified by a small emblem on the plinth at the base of the sculpture. The emblem of King Shyaam aMbul aNgoong, founder of the Bushoong ruling dynasty, is a board game, mancala. Other figures have different emblems. MishaaPelyeeng aNce is commemorated by a drum and Mbop Pelyeeng aNce, a renowned blacksmith, is associated in oral tradition with an anvil stand. Ndop were carved in the eighteenth century, thus making them some of the oldest surviving examples of African wood sculpture.
Ndop frequently portray the monarch carrying a weapon in his left hand, an ikul or peace knife, made in the style reserved for the Bushoong, the ruling clan of the Kuba.
The wooden portraits were kept in the king's shrine with other sculptures referred to as 'royal charms', upon which the king's magical powers rested. When the king was absent from the capital, the ndop were rubbed with oil to preserve the essence of kingship at the centre of the kingdom.
J. Mack, Emil Torday and the art of the (London, The British Museum Press)
C.J. Spring, African arms and armour (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)