By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Democratic Republic of the Congo; Pende peoples



H. 85 cm (33 1/2")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.205

In less centralized societies, works of art often serve important judicial roles. Among Pende peoples living along the Kasai River in Democratic Republic of the Congo, sculpted staffs are used in serious discussions between clans. Each clan owns one, which is held by the clan orator as he pleads the clan's case. The staff invokes the aid of the ancestors and the assistance of their memory of legal precedent. The appearance of the staff indicates that all efforts at arbitration have been exhausted and that the defendants are at the point of shedding blood. During the judge's deliberations the staffs are placed in front of the tribunal, and their decision is announced by rubbing white chalk on the victor’s staff.