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

Democratic Republic of the CongoTabwa peoples

Mipasi (ancestor figure)


H. 29 cm (11 7/16")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1990.704

Chiefs and leaders in Tabwa society represent the embodiment of ambiguity. Tabwa view their chiefs as "fathers" of the people who are expected to offer guidance, protection and support. At the same time, they are viewed as great sorcerers who have enormous potentially despotic powers. The chief is responsible for good and evil and must struggle to maintain balance with in the community. Their enlightened knowledge can be used to achieve their own selfish ends and is accordingly looked upon with cautious ambivalence (Roberts 1993). But symmetry and balance are what Tabwa hope to achieve. Tabwa philosophy refers often to mulalambo (the central dividing line) that can be poetically represented by the horizon line of Lake Tanganyika, the Milky Way, the central dividing line of the human body, or the main road that divides a Tabwa community. The chief's house in such a community is ideally built at the end of the road, looking out over the community, bridging the gap between those living on the other side of it (Roberts 1987).

Tabwa peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lake Tanganyika village. Photo by Allen F. Roberts.