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CollectionKlaas de Jonge

A collection of art and ethnography from various parts of Africa collected over several decades.

Geographic locations

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Zambia, Democratic Republic of the Congo

The name Babemba means “the people of the lake.” The Bemba settled mostly in northeast of Zambia, but also in the southeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Bemba borrowed the bwami association from the Lega, but they have also other secret societies. Initiates would use figures sculpted from elephant tusks or wood, wooden masks, and, as emblems of the highest levels, a stool or an anthropomorphic figurine.

The Bemba people never produce large statues, but small statuettes are made in the western part of their territory. The sorcerers and healers used the statuettes for their rites of magic and healing. It is thought that certain female statuettes may have been used as fecundity figures – they stand on short legs with their hands resting on their abdomen.

Additional Reading (aka Babemba)


Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Boa ethnic group is living in the northern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Each village is headed by a chief from the most prestigious clan. The Boa are predominantly farmers and are in frequent contact with Mangbetu and Zande. The Boa are known principally for their masks, believed to be used in war-related ceremonies, to enhance the warrior’s courage or to celebrate victories. These masks have set-apart, prominent, round ears, suggesting alertness, and are covered alternately with dark and light pigments. They have been described as belonging to warrior or secret associations and are considered to be war masks or disguises used in hunting although the precise function of Boa masks is not known.

Additional Reading (aka Ababua, Ababwa, Babua, Babwa, Bwa)


Democratic Republic of the Congo

In southeast DRC, the Hemba people inhabit the right bank of the Lualaba River. Their social organization is founded on a system of clans that brings together several families sharing a common ancestor. They recognize a creator god Vidiye Mukulu and a supreme being ShimuGabo. The Hemba practice ancestor worship, not only to keep the memory of their great chiefs alive, but also to justify the present authority and power of the chief of the clan; the latter has absolute authority over clan members and is in charge of several ancestor figures he keeps in his own hut or in a smaller, funerary hut. The chief of the clan renders justice and his status as clan head means that he has the privilege of receiving numerous gifts. As celebrant of the ancestral cult, the chief of the clan, surrounded by the people, communicates with the ancestor, recalling his great deeds and summoning his good will. He renders justice in his own home, and collects tributes for it. Along with medicine, law, and sacrifices, the ancestral cult penetrates all social, political, and religious domains. To possess numerous effigies is a sign of nobility. Secret societies such as Bukazanzi for the men and Bukibilo for the women counterbalance the chief of the clan’s power. Diviners play an important role in society, often requiring that certain ancestors be appeased in order to establish balance in the community.

The Hemba are a matrilineal people with a sculptural tradition devoted mainly to representation of male ancestors. The sculptures of the Hemba include singiti male ancestor figures and two types of masks. Although every figure is the portrait of a specific person, the artist portrays generalized , not particular, individual traits. The Hemba see the serenely closed eyes and the rounded face as reflecting the ancestor’s interior calm. A four-lobed hairdo typical for many Hemba figures, evokes the four directions of the universe and the crossroad where spirits assemble. The Hemba honor the kabeja, a Janus-shaped statuette, with a single body and two faces, male and female, on one neck. The kabeja is topped with a receptacle for magic ingredients. Each clan possesses a single kabeja, which is dangerous to handle, and which receives sacrifices intended for the spirits, a magico-religious practice that is of the essence to the family.

The first type of masks that are rare presents a symmetrical human face with a small mouth and a linear nose set between two slanted eyes. The second type is used in So’o, a semi-secret society. It represents a strange were-chimpanzee with a large, pierced, crescent-shaped mouth and a pointed nose. The function and meaning of these masks remains obscure. The Hemba also sculpt anthropomorphic neck-rests, rattles used in dancing, and ivory objects.

Additional Reading

The Lega

The Lega peoples live on the southeastern edge of the central African rainforests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, between the great lakes and the Lualaba River. The Lega do not possess a centralized political organization, and both men and women aspire to moral authority by gaining high rank in the bwami association. From the mid to late 1800s, the Lega and adjacent peoples were raided for the Indian Ocean trade in slaves and ivory. In 1885, the Lega were brought into the Congo Free State, which became the Belgian Congo in 1908. Still, the Lega live in an isolated and mountainous region that has long resisted governmental control. Belgian administrators seeking to integrate the Lega into colonial society considered Bwami a “threat to tranquility and public order” because it represented forms of political organization outside colonial norms. Authorities outlawed Bwami in 1933 and again in 1948, causing radical change in Lega arts and ritual practices. Since Congolese independence in 1960, the Lega and other Congolese have suffered mightily from a tumultuous history of civil strife that continues today.

All Lega art is used within the context of the bwami society. Originally Lega art was primarily wooden, but little by little, ivory came into use. The highest ranking members of the bwami association commission, own, use and interpret all Lega sculpture. The bwami was divided into several levels. To pass to the next level, a series of initiations, gifts, and payments were needed; and this meant that one had attained a certain wisdom and acquired a personal moral sense. Various categories of objects are used in connection with the association’s activities, including anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines, masks, hats, and others. Each anthropomorphic figurine symbolically represents a named personage with particular moral qualities or defects that are expressed through dance and sung aphorisms in initiations to the highest grades of the association. Although sometimes primitive and coarse in style and execution, very expressive Lega sculpture convey the strong sense of balance, form and serenity. The Lega judge the quality of their sculpture on the basis of its effectiveness.

Additional Reading (see Fowler Museum –UCLA – their coll.)


Democratic Republic of the Congo

Their history is closely linked to the Luba’s, to whom the Songye are related through common ancestors. Having waged war against one another for a long time, the Songye and Luba later formed an alliance to fight the Arabs. They settled on the left bank of the Lualaba River, on a savanna and forest-covered plateau. Divided into many subgroups, the Songye people are governed by a central chief assisted by innumerable secret societies.

The Songye created a sculptural style. The works of Songye craftsmen are often used within the secret societies during various ceremonies. They produced a large number of figures belonging to the fetishist, who manipulates them during the rituals of the full moon. Songye fetish figures are usually male and stand on a circular base. Strips of metal, nails or other paraphernalia are sometimes applied over the face, which counteract evil spirits and aggressors and channel lightings against them. The top of the head and the abdomen are usually hollowed to allow insertion of fetish material, called boanga. The figures are used to ensure their success, fertility, and wealth and to protect people against hostile forces as lightning, as well as against diseases such as smallpox.

In the Songye language, a mask is a kifwebe: this term has been given to masks representing spirits and characterized by striations. Depending on the region, it may be dark with white strips, or the reverse. The kifwebe society used them to ward off disaster or any threat. The use of white on the mask symbolizes positive concepts such as purity and peace, the moon and light. Red is associated with blood and fire, courage and fortitude, but also with danger and evil.

Buffalo masks with a brown patina that have no stripes were used in hunting rituals. The Songye also produce prestige stools, ceremonial axes, made of iron and copper and decorated with interlaced patterns, neckrests, bracelets and copper adzes.

Additional Reading


Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia

The Tabwa people lived under Luba domination in small autonomous villages within a territory that expanded from the southeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the northeast of Zambia, along Lake Tanganyika. The verb “tabwa” means “to be tied up” and refers to when these people were taken as slaves. During the 19th century, the ivory trade brought wealth to the region and Tabwa people gained their independence. Today they are led by chiefs-sorcerers who rule over village chiefs and family chiefs. Their power is counterbalanced by male societies created on Luba prototypes and by female associations influenced by East African models. The Tabwa worshipped ancestors, whose statues were the property of the lineage chiefs and sorcerers; these carried “medications” in their ears or in small cavities at the top of their heads. The Tabwa also worshipped the spirits of nature, who lived in trees and rocks. In the north of Tabwa country, the diviner was also a sculptor; consulted after a dream, he would create a new statue.

The Tabwa used two types of masks: a human one, which represented woman, and another in the form of a buffalo head, which represented man. Both would make an appearance at the time of the fecundity ritual, celebrated for sterile women. One also finds paddles, combs, and musical instruments with figurines.

Additional reading (aka Tabwa, Rungu)

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