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Democratic Republic of the Congo; Tabwa artist

Mipasi (ancestor figure)


H. 41.9 cm (16.5")

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

This male ancestor figure belongs to Style I, the "Classic Tabwa Style," as defined by Bernard de Grunne in a thesis on Tabwa sculpture. The "Classic" traits include the forked bird-claw (pate-d'oie) scars at the corners of the eyes, large, round eyes, an open mouth with the tongue protruding slightly, and a long, pendulant hairstyle. Other figures in this group are in the collection of the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren (no. 50.18.1) and the British Museum (no. 14.056). The present example is remarkable for its beautiful, long hairstyle, with delicate patterns around a diamond-shaped center, which hangs far down the back.

Such objects were used in the cult of mipasi (ancestors): "These are portraits of ancestors who founded the clan or who had an important role to play in the history of the clan... The role of the ancestor statues was to protect the village and especially the chief, who is generally a descendant of the person represented [by the figure]. The statuettes were placed in huts of the same form as those in which the BaTabwa live, but of much smaller size... These huts are usually found near the home of the chief..." (de Grunne 1980: 105-6).

Professor Christopher D. Roy, 1991

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de Grunne, Bernard. "La Sculpture baTabwa," unpublished thesis. Louvain: Université Catholique de Louvain. Institut Superieur d'Archéologie et d'Histoire d'Art, 1980.