The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Congo and Democratic Republic of the Congo; Teke artist
Power figure
Wood, copper, empowered materials
H. 34.3 cm (13 1/2")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection of African Art, X1986.233

The torso of this Teke butti (power figure) is covered with a thick layer of bonga (medicine) composed of mpieme (white clay), animal claws, the hair of venerated ancestors, all mixed with sticky clay and covered with hard resin. Without this material the tege (wooden figure) is powerless but when it has been applied by the local diviner the figure is imbued with a specific power to ensure “success in hunting, in trading, in acquiring wives or slaves, in short, success in all transactions for the increase of property. The bonga also has power against diseases with external, visible symptoms” (Hottot 1956:29).

The figure represents a particular ancestor and is believed to be composed of the substance of that ancestor. Similar to the minkisi figures from the Kongo (cat. nos. 139. 140), its torso is roughly carved, with the expectation that it will be completely hidden by the accretions of bonga. The vertical, striated mabinda (facial scars), beard, and elaborate coiffure are faithful to traditional Teke fashion (Hottot 1956:27, 28).

Professor Christopher D. Roy, 1991