By Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Democratic Republic of the CongoMbole peoples


Wood, pigment (white, ochre, traces of black)

H. 38.1 cm (15”)

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.315

Among the goals of initiation is the acquisition of knowledge, especially of secrets that separate those who have been initiated from those who have not.  These secrets may include knowledge of healing medicines, knowledge of the history of the people, knowledge of the spiritual world, and knowledge that the masks that are intended to represent spiritual beings are actually the creations of humankind.  The new initiates are warned that those who reveal these secrets will be severely punished, even killed.  Among the Mbole people of Democratic Republic of the Congo a carved figure of an initiate who has been executed for revealing the secrets of the initiation.  The shoulders of the figure are slumped and the knees are bent in the pose of someone executed by hanging, which is the common form of punishment among the Mbole.