StaffArtist(s)KongoArtist NationalityKongo (culture or style)Object Creation DateEarly to mid-20th centuryMedium & SupportwoodDimensions
49 13/16 in x 1 1/4 in x 1 3/16 in (126.52 cm x 3.18 cm x 3.02 cm);51 3/8 in x 1 1/4 in x 1 3/16 in (130.49 cm x 3.18 cm x 3.02 cm)Credit LineGift of Margaret H. and Albert J. CoudronSubject matter
Among the Kongo peoples, carved, wooden staffs were the prerogative of the elite, namely, chiefs, healers-diviners, and orators. Known as an mvwala
, a staff was much more than a walking stick; it communicated the owner’s identity, status, and power through nuanced messages conveyed in its iconography.
This staff most likely belonged to a chief. Its finial features a kneeling, female figure representing a revered, maternal ancestor who continues to protect her descendants from the afterlife as she once did while living. A chief communicated his royal lineage by depicting a particular female ancestor on his staff. In the royal court and beyond, this link with an ancestral past legitimizes and protects the chief’s claim to political authority. Furthermore, the maternal ancestor symbolizes fertility, maternity, progeny, and, above all, the continuation of the lineage — a primary concern of the chief and his clan.
Reference:Staffs of Life: Rods, Staffs Scepters and Wands from the Coudron Collection of African Art
. Ed.: Allen F. Roberts. Iowa City: PASALA: The Project for Advanced Study of Art and Life in Africa and the University of Iowa Museum of Art, 1994.Physical Description
This long, slender wooden staff features a kneeling female figure at its finial. Bearing a tall, spade-shaped coiffure and scarifications upon her chest, she is seated with her right hand positioned upon her abdomen and her left hand upon her hip. The staff is decorated with fine, geometric incisions as well as several large, rounded shapes which create segments along its midsection.Primary Object Classification Wood and Woodcarving Primary Object TypestaffAdditional Object Classification(s)SculptureCollection AreaAfricanRights
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staffs (walking sticks)
symbols of office or status