By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Democratic Republic of the CongoKongo peoples


Wood, brass

H. 28.5 cm (11 1/4")

Private Collection of the Bareiss Family

The interactions with foreign traders and travelers was not restricted to the exchange of material goods, but often extended to include a commerce in beliefs and spirituality. Kongo peoples, for example, had considerable contact with Europe after 1482 and frequently incorporated outside elements, such as clothing, books, gin bottles, and Christian crucifixes into their own art forms. These motifs were not appropriated wholesale, however, but were adapted to local sensibilities. The Christian Cross, for example, corresponded to Kongo centering devices, or crossroads, that concentrate supernatural power by joining the vertical axis of God above with the ancestors and spiritual forces residing below. So, when missionaries spoke of Christ's crucifixion, Kongo peoples could understand these stories from a Kongo point of view, and the crucifix was adopted as an instrument of oath-taking, litigation, and healing.