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Wooden carving of an ancestor figure
Luba, 19th century AD
From the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire)
The Luba are the largest complex of culturally related groups in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. They were united in a great military confederacy two centuries ago. Worship of ancestors is an important feature of life and various figures are carved for these purposes. This statuette with a ringed neck is typical of the Niembo group. The face is full and round suggesting inner calm; the eyes downcast, suggesting both insight and deference to the spirit world; the hair is dressed with a finely carved diadem in front with horizontal decorated plaits behind folded into vertical plaits, a hairstyle typical of the southern regions.
Emblems of Luba kings often depicted the female form in the belief that women are the most efficient guardians of royal secrets; one Luba proverb states: 'only the body of a woman is strong enough to hold a spirit as powerful as that of a king.' The stance of the figure makes a further reference to the Luba belief that the secrets of royalty lie within a woman's breasts.
J. Mack (ed.), Africa: arts and cultures (London, The British Museum Press, 2000)