The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Kuba Art and Rule

by Joseph Aurélien Cornet (1919 - 2004)
Formerly Institute for National Museums of Congo

Kuba titleholder tshik'l, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo by Angelo Turconi.

Among the nobles who surround the king, called “the uncles of the king,” the second rank is made up of those who are given the title tslhik’l. In addition to the king's collar (made of long straight wool), his two major symbols or badges of office are the axe he carries on his left shoulder and the headgear that is reserved only for him. This is generally in the shape of a Kuba hat, but is enriched with beads and cowries. It is surmounted by a tuft of red parrot leathers, and below by a tail that hangs in front of the face. The headgear is accompanied by a band of cowries across the chest. The white pigment on the forearm represents the tradition of rubbing oneself with kaolin for important ceremonies. In the corner of his mouth, the red parrot feather is a symbol of wisdom, and because it makes it difficult to speak, it is then a symbol of circumspection.