Adult Initiation

By Allen F. Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles (formerly University of Iowa)

Democratic Republic of the Congo; Lega peoples

Iginga (figure)

Ivory

H. 10.5 cm (4")

The University of Iowa Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.585

The upper orders of initiatory societies sometimes possess considerable political power. Among Lega people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Bwami Society provides a hierarchical structure through which society is organized and regulated—or at least it did in the past. Decades of civil strife in the region have prevented research on more contemporary cultural forms. Lega men and women aspired to the upper echelons of Bwami, called yonanio and kindi, but only a few achieved the last ranks, and they were elderly when they did. Morality was contemplated and taught through proverbs, performances, and a brilliant array of man-made and natural objects specific to each grade of Bwami that were sometimes grouped in mnemonic displays reminding people of complex cultural narratives. This ivory figure, called iginga, was owned by someone of the highest level of Bwami called kindi, and was so powerful that tiny shavings of its ivory were used in powerful medicines to heal and promote Bwami members (Cameron 2001: 131).