925 x 397 CMS291C-A.jpg - Art & Life in Africa - The University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art
The University of Iowa University of Iowa

CongoBeembe artist


Wood, mirror

H. 14.6 cm (5 3/4")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection of African Art, X1986.291C

This small Beembe figure was carved with an anal orifice for the insertion of medicine, magical materials, or a white clay called mukuya, "the spirit of the ancestors." When consecrated by the addition of mukuya by the nganga (diviner), the figure becomes a container for the spirit of an ancestor and has the power to provide for the well being of its owner and his family, or to punish him for failure to observe the rules of proper behavior established by the ancestors (Borrission cited in Soderberg 1975: 14-16). Without added materials the statue is only an object to be appreciated for its beauty, and it may be disposed of freely.

In contrast to the power figures produced by the Kongo and the Teke, which are often partially obscured by accretions of materials, Beembe figures show little or no trace of the added magical substances. Instead, the torso of each figure bears a careful rendering of the intricate raised scarification of the person it represents. Male figures often carry guns, knives, or powder flasks, symbols of male power and prestige. Female figures place their hands on their stomachs or breasts, an allusion to female fertility. The eyes of the figure are always inlaid with chips of imported porcelain, and their coiffures are blackened with a heated iron blade. Several of the figures in the Stanley Collection show signs of the insertion of mukuya. The smaller female figure (cf. X1986.291D) has holes beneath the arms indicating that it once may have been worn suspended around the neck as a personal protective figure.

Professor Christopher D. Roy, 1991