Secrecy

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Democratic Republic of the Congo; Luba peoples

Bowstand

Wood, fiber

H. 65.1 cm (26")

The University of Iowa Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.442

Secrecy and revelation characterize the use of regalia in many African kingdoms. They also govern the aesthetics of court practice more generally. "Secrecy," Allen Roberts writes, "is the essence of politics, for it implies a hierarchy of privilege and dependency; some people know something, others do not" (1993: 65). Secrecy, silence, and concealment infuse all aspects of Luba court etiquette: kings eat and drink in isolation; they demonstrate authority by remaining silent when addressed; the king's mother is called M'Fyama ("the hidden one"); and much of the king's regalia, including the royal throne and bowstand, are never publicly shown or are shown to the populace only on the occasion of the king's investiture, before being secreted in a sacred shrine house. These customs remind onlookers not only of the dangers of looking too closely, but of the dangers of looking—and knowing—at all.