Bena Lulua hemp box figures and crouching figures

Crouching figures with receptacles on their heads were used as hemp boxes by the hunters,
who attached them to the belt and spoke to them, and they brought him luck on his return. During
the hunting ritual, the statue would be fed and placed on a small earth hillock to witness the hunt.

Other figures are in crouching or squatting positions with raised hands resting on the neck and the
oversize head. It is said that this position corresponded to the burial form, and in all probability
these statues represent ancestors. Other statuettes with truncated bases protected against
sorcerers, thieves, and lightning; they were used in divination sessions, and could bring about bad
luck.

It has also been described in the book "The Tribal Arts of Africa" that crouching figures with their hands
placed on either side of their head are thought to be associated with disease and suffering.

Warrior statues are also numerous. Large standing figures, carrying a cup, were charms of beauty
and luck inhabited by ancestral spirits. These statues participated in the investitures of chiefs and
at their funerals. One should note the importance of the head, which frequently comprises a
quarter of the total dimension of the figure. The hairdos generally end in a point and have tufts of
hair emerging from the back of the skull. The horn projected from the top of the head symbolizes
power. The neck is long, the shoulders tattooed, the breasts small and pointy. The position of the
arms at right angles expresses virile strength. The navel is often pointed, surrounded by
concentric circles that symbolize life.
A Lulua crouching figure - 9" - from the book "The Tribal Arts of Africa"

It has also been described in the book "The Tribal Arts of Africa" that crouching figures with their hands
placed on either side of their head are thought to be associated with disease and suffering.
Examples and information on mortar/hemp figures for reference purposes
Sotheby's
"African Art from the Egon Guenther Family Collection"
November 2000 - Lot 112
A Benalulua Mortar
In the form of a large crouching monkey with elongated arms bent and grasping the sides of the
cheeks, with a deeply carved face raised open mouth and deeply inset circular eyes, and wearing
a close-cropped coiffure, the scrolling ears set back on the head, fine and varied blackened
patina, 'EG' on the underside. 12in. (30.5cm.)
Provenance:
Ernst Heinrich Collection, Stuttgart
Sotheby's London, November 30, 1970, lot 77
estimate $4,000-6,000
Above is an example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY
Return to the African cups page

Go to the Bena Lulua figure
You Be the Judge page