Spirit Embodiments

By Barbara Thompson
Friends of Usambara Society, Tanzania (formerly Stanford University; University of Iowa)

Democratic Republic of the Congo; Luluwa peoples

Tshibola figure


H. 43.2 cm (17”)

Indiana University Art Museum, Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection, 75.91

The active participation of the ancestors in the living community is vital to the continuation of their memory. Since their participation often causes and cures afflictions, ancestor spirits play an important role in the arts of healing. Among the Luluwa, tshibola (ancestor spirits) can cause a woman to lose her children through spontaneous abortion, at birth, or in infancy. When this happens, she joins a spirit association called tshibola, which honors these spirits. The woman undergoes ritual purification, seclusion, and initiation into the association, which ensures the return of the infant's soul to her womb. As part of her treatment, the patient commissions a figure of a pregnant woman or a mother with child, which she periodically rubs with cosmetic preparations. If given the appropriate attention, the tshibola spirit is attracted into the figure and will provide new life in the mother’s womb.