Figure

1880-1910 (made)
Figure thumbnail 1
Not currently on display at the V&A

Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This elegant figure was created by an unknown Tabwa maker in the Lake Tanganyika region of southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. It embodies the female ancestor of a Tabwa ruler. The creation of male and female ancestor figures by the Tabwa came about through changing power structures in this part of Central Africa. In the 19th century a group of elite Tabwa families gained leadership though their involvement in regional trade. As new rulers they wanted to prove that their right to rule was historically pre-determined so they commissioned local sculptors to create wooden figures that reflected their chiefly ancestry. A new genre of figure sculpture was established.

As ancestor figures these sculptures were passed down through the family. They were cared for by family elders who kept the figures in shrines within their compounds and made frequent offerings to them for the well-being of the family and its lineage. The figure’s powers could be heightened by being anointed with magical medicines by diviner-healers and they were used in a number of contexts: to protect the sick from evil forces, villages from unwelcome intruders and to ascertain the guilt, or otherwise, of a defendant.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Wood, with glass
Brief Description
Figure, wood, a female ancestor, from the Tabwa people, Democratic Republic of Congo, early ca. 1880-1910
Physical Description
A carved wooden figure with white glass beads for eyes. Elongated neck and body, with both covered with elaborate scarification, also face. Hands resting on stomach. Knees bent. Stood on small circular base.
Dimensions
  • Height: 37.5cm
  • (of base) diameter: 5cm
Style
Gallery Label
Figure (mikisi) Tabwa people, Democratic Republic of Congo 1880-1910 In the mid-19th century some elite Tabwa families used their role in regional trade to assume leadership. Figure sculptures were created to evoke the high-status ancestors of these new rulers. This female ancestor figure has the hairstyle and skin markings of a fashionable Tabwa woman of the period. Wood and glass Museum no. Circ.290-1950 Bequeathed by H.C. Coleman Formerly in the collection of the Circulation Department
Credit line
Bequeathed by H.C. Coleman
Object history
Accessions register entry: 'Wooden figure of a woman. / AFRICAN. (Belgian Congo?) / Dimensions H 14 5/8" / Bequest / Cracked and chipped / H.C. Coleman (deceased) c/o W. Deacon's Bank, E.C.3 / 13th December 1949 / [Authority] 49/1871'.

Bequeathed by H.C. COleman in 1950.
Subject depicted
Summary
This elegant figure was created by an unknown Tabwa maker in the Lake Tanganyika region of southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. It embodies the female ancestor of a Tabwa ruler. The creation of male and female ancestor figures by the Tabwa came about through changing power structures in this part of Central Africa. In the 19th century a group of elite Tabwa families gained leadership though their involvement in regional trade. As new rulers they wanted to prove that their right to rule was historically pre-determined so they commissioned local sculptors to create wooden figures that reflected their chiefly ancestry. A new genre of figure sculpture was established.



As ancestor figures these sculptures were passed down through the family. They were cared for by family elders who kept the figures in shrines within their compounds and made frequent offerings to them for the well-being of the family and its lineage. The figure’s powers could be heightened by being anointed with magical medicines by diviner-healers and they were used in a number of contexts: to protect the sick from evil forces, villages from unwelcome intruders and to ascertain the guilt, or otherwise, of a defendant.
Bibliographic Reference
Sculpture is the subject of a V&A web object story, 'A Tabwa Ancestor Figure', [http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/a-tabwa-ancestor-figure/]
Collection
Accession Number
CIRC.290-1950

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record createdMay 8, 2008
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