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"You be the judge ARCHIVES"
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Bena Lulua figure
|The Lulua statuary is remarkable in the degree of its scarification, a manifestation of a wish to be
socially differentiated. These marks must be very ancient as in 18th and 19th century they were
none found on the Lulua themselves. The statues represent great chiefs with beards and insignia,
and these effigies would be planted in the ground to protect the household when the head of the
family was absent. These male figures depict warriors-chiefs who often hold a ceremonial sword and
shield, or a cup. Sometimes knives and other paraphernalia hang from the belt. The most famous
statuettes are the mbulenga, or female charm statuettes. The chibola are maternity figures that,
when worn on the belt, protected the newborn child or the baby about to be born: the chibola would
stand watch over childbirths. The protruding abdomen of the woman emphasizes the importance of
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. 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.
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. The legs are short.
Luluwa women who have lost children or who experience difficulty conceiving consult a diviner. The
diviner determines the underlying cause of the malady, which may involve spiritual forces. The most
popular diagnostic technique employed to reveal this information is that of a basket filled with small
objects whose contents are cast out onto a surface, forming a configuration that is subsequently
interpreted by a diviner. When diviners are unable to provide remedies for problems that they
diagnose, they refer their clients to appropriate specialists. In cases concerning infertility or infant
mortality, women are usually directed to healers who initiate them into a fertility cult that is prevalent
throughout the region.
The cult is known to the Luluwa as bwanga bwa cibola, a name that refers to its objective of
alleviating sorrow and misfortune by boosting fertility, preventing miscarriage, and safeguarding
newborns. This is achieved through a strict regimen requiring that the patient follow a prescribed set
of rules, most of which regulate diet and behavior. Although the Luluwa direct their prayers toward a
Supreme Being, Mfidi Mukulu, it is the ancestors (bakishi) who respond to them and intercede when
those prayers are accompanied by offerings. Among the delicate operations the fertility specialist
performs is to reincarnate a deceased ancestor in the newborn child. To accomplish this goal, he
monitors the mother's lifestyle and prescribes protective "medicine," which she wears on her person
and places in her home. In the case of infertility "medicines," a wooden figure (lupingu) may serve
this function. There are two varieties of these representations: small, rudimentary ones and larger,
more highly refined works, such as the present example. "Medicines" are both inserted into cavities
within the figure's body and contained in attachments that are tied to it. Here, holes have been
drilled at the top and back of the head for that purpose, since, according to Luluwa beliefs, the
fontanels (cranial depressions) are associated with divine insight into past and future experience.
It is probable that Luluwa women each owned two figural artifacts, one of which always remained at
home, while the other was carried suspended from a belt or around the neck. These figures were
anointed with libations and applications of red clay, palm oil, and camwood powder. Judging from its
size and the two short wooden pegs at the base of its feet, the work shown here was probably
created for a domestic context where it was inserted into a ritual vessel filled with "medicines." It is
believed that once the goals of the initiation were successfully fulfilled, all ritual paraphernalia,
including the wood figures, were destroyed.
The rarity of bwanga bwa cibola figures of this size and expressive quality suggests that the work
shown here was commissioned from a highly accomplished professional sculptor and that its patron
must have been a woman occupying an important position of authority. Several works of comparable
stature in the collection of the Africa Museum in Tervuren, Belgium, have been attributed to the
same workshop. By creating a work of exceptional beauty, beyond what one expects of a merely
functional artifact, the artist has produced both a status object and an especially effective entreaty
for its owner's prayers to be fulfilled.
The subject represented here is clearly conceived of as a celebration of motherhood. She holds a
child in her arms, firmly angled against her body, and appears reflective as she gazes forward, her
eyes slightly downcast. This expression is given emphasis by the figure's disproportionately large
head and high forehead, which suggest her intelligence. Her attention appears to be somewhat
distracted from the child, as if focused inward on spiritual matters, conveying an attitude that
accentuates the role ascribed to women in Luluwa culture as mediators between natural and spiritual
realms. This role is further underscored by her prominently protruding navel, which alludes to the
cyclical nature of life and to the relationship between the ancestors and the living.
The figure projects a powerful physical presence, solidly anchored by her massive feet. The woman's
strength is clearly apparent in the muscularity of her body, which is depicted as a series of discrete
interconnected volumes. This formal definition reflects the artist's delight in complex surface
articulation, as displayed in the typical nineteenth-century hairstyle (representing a wig made of
vegetable fibers rubbed with palm oil and camwood powder) and the body's contours and richly
inscribed decorative patterns. The latter are cicatrization motifs (nsalu)—concentric circles, fields of
points, and sinuously curved linear flourishes—set against luminously polished skin. As adornments,
they aesthetically enhance her body and endow it with the utmost cultural refinement, while at the
same time, as apotropaic motifs, they provide spiritual protection. Along with her apparel of a cibola
initiate (a loincloth and a belt with small gourds hanging from it), such decorative enhancements
suggest that this maternity figure may depict an idealized image of its owner.
|Maternity Figure (Bwanga Bwa Cibola)
Luluwa, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Wood; 28.9 x 8.6 x 8.2 cm (11 3/8 x 3 3/8 x 3 1/4 in.)
Mid-late 19th century
Wirt D. Walker Endowment Fund
Art Institute of Chicago
I picked this piece because it gave an interesting provenance of coming from the collection of Henri Kamer
who is often mentioned in the same league as Charles Ratton. I believe that Henri was married to Hélène
Leloup, someone correct me if I am wrong. If they were not married they had a strong association with
This type of sculpture is interesting to me for African Art because it is very similar to some of the Easter
Islands sculptures with the scarification patterns. Many African sculptures depicted scarification on their
statues but the Lulua seemed to be a little different than most of the others to me.
|A very Rare BENA LULUA Female Figure
Very nice patina.
C. About 80 to 90 years old.
13 7/8” x 2 3/4” x 2 7/8”
The Bena Lulua Figure was purchased in auction in 1962 in France by Francois Lucet. It belonged
to the collector Henri Kamer who was the President of the International Arts Experts Association
back in the 1970's. Henri Kamer had the Bena Lulua Figure for about 30 years.
From Paris, France Henri Kamer private collection.
F.M. Lucet collection.
Bena Lulua. Fertility statuette representing an pregnant women - intended to bring about and
protect the birth of a child, denied till then. As in the Bakuba and N’Dengese sculptures, the
body of the statuette is partly covered with refined tribal scarification.
|Go to my About Me page on my website and look for a
link to F.M. (Francois) Lucet's website or click here to go
to his website in a new window.
click on images to see full size version
|Various Internet pieces
|Above are 2 examples in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY