By Monica Demott
(formerly University of Iowa)

Angola; Songo artist

Female figure


H. 26.1 cm. (10”)

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection of African Art, X1986.426

The notion of death as a transition involving three phases is a conceptual model that, like all models, is limited.  The nature of the phases varies across cultures and the phases are often interrelated in such a way that they cannot be considered individually nor ordered chronologically.  Categorizing some cultural expressions of death into phases may be unhelpful.  Yet, the three-phase model is useful in differentiating the practices and traditions associated with burials, funerals, and ancestor worship (van Gennep 1909 and Turner 1984: 22). This ancestor figure from Songo peoples in northern Angola incorporates a hole in the cap that may have permitted it to be worn by a descendant to acquire the spiritual protection of the deceased.