By Eileen Moyer
University of Amsterdam (formerly University of Iowa)

Democratic Republic of the Congo; Tabwa peoples

Mipasi (ancestor figure)


H. 41.9 cm (16.5")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.559

The philosophical worldview of many African peoples is often embedded in the form of figurative sculpture. Tabwa of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, like many central Bantu peoples, imagine a world divided similarly to the division of the human body represented in the coiffure and scarification patterns of this carving. The scarification patterns also incorporate a triangular balamwezi motif (“rising of the new moon"), which alludes to a Tabwa association between moonlight and enlightenment, the triumph of wisdom over ignorance, good over evil, and light over darkness (Roberts 1985). Yet these apparent opposites would perhaps better be viewed as complementary, for one cannot exist without the other, and the presence of light, for instance, implies the foreboding darkness. It is the tension and ambiguity that exists between opposites in a society that fosters cohesiveness (Roberts 1993). This figure, like the one on the next screen, is a mipasi (ancestor figure) and most likely represents the ancestors of chiefs or other lineage elders.