Smoking and Drinking

By Victoria Rovine
University of Florida (formerly University of Iowa)

Democratic Republic of the Congo; Suku peoples

Palm wine cup


W. 14.9 cm (5 7/8”)

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.371

This kopa (two-mouthed cup) was used for the consumption of palm wine, an alcoholic beverage made from the sap of palm trees. Its form is based on cups made of halved gourds, reproducing in sculpted wood the smooth curves of the vegetable. Only political leaders are entitled to drink from a kopa, usually in ceremonial contexts. The cups are ritually passed from owner to successor and carefully guarded as a part of the regalia of office. Kopa are decorated with carved geometric designs on one or both sides. This example is of a type closely related to Suku masking traditions. It is adorned with a stylized human face that represents the features of a particular mask--the hemba nkisi, worn during boys' initiation ceremonies. Its depiction on a kopa is said to guard the cup against use by anyone other than its rightful owner (Bourgeois 1984: 77).