StaffArtist(s)KongoArtist NationalityKongo (culture or style)Object Creation DateEarly to mid-20th centuryMedium & Supportwood with beads, cloth and twineDimensions
26 11/16 in x 1 9/16 in x 1 3/4 in (67.79 cm x 3.97 cm x 4.45 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, adornments, and accessories.
Both ends of this staff have been wrapped in pieces of cloth. One end features a schematized, anthropomorphic face, while the other is adorned by strands of multi-colored beads. This staff most likely belonged to an nganga
, a clairvoyant healer-diviner and spiritual medium. By communicating with invisible spirit beings, he could diagnose and remedy both physical ailments and societal conflicts. The nganga
would specially craft medicinal preparations (bilongo
) for his clients. Sometimes his staff would have also contained bilongo
to protect him from the harm of retributive forces.Bilongo
may have been held under the cloth of this staff. Additionally, the anthropomorphic face likely represents the spirit of a deceased diviner or an ancestor, whom the nganga
appealed to for inspiration. After the successful resolution of the client’s dilemma, a votive offering such as beads, such as those seen here, would be presented to the staff. Thus, a staff’s physical appearance would change over time through the gifting of such accessories, reflecting the dynamic use and potent efficacy of the object.
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 wooden staff has pieces of cloth wrapped on both extensions. One end depicts an abstract anthropomorphic face, while the other appears to function as a handle and is embellished with two strings of black and white beads and a loop of blue and white beads.Primary Object Classification Wood and Woodcarving Primary Object TypestaffAdditional Object Classification(s)SculptureCollection AreaAfricanRights
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beads (pierced objects)
staffs (walking sticks)
symbols of office or status