Accession Number



Artist Nationality
Kuba (Democratic Republic of Congo style)

Object Creation Date
circa 1890

Medium & Support
wood, copper, and cowrie shells

9 1/4 in x 5 1/2 in x 6 5/16 in (23.5 cm x 14 cm x 16 cm);9 1/4 in x 5 1/2 in x 6 5/16 in (23.5 cm x 14 cm x 16 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Candis and Helmut Stern

Subject matter
This intricately carved wooden cup is attributed to the Bushoong, a Kuba subgroup, who reside in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Carved Kuba cups assume many forms: anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, or two-headed. Although ostensibly a utilitarian object used for drinking, this cup functioned more as an object of prestige and display. Known as a mbwoong ntey, this cup would have been used in the daily lives of the king and his royal court. Generally, these cups held palm wine; but, on certain occasions could have contained ritual libations or medicinal preparations.
This cup’s cowrie shell ornamentation and copper gilding reveal that, as a prestige object, this cup was intended to serve as a visual tool by which its elite patron projected his self-image and communicated his social status to all those around him.

Maurer, Evan M. and Niangi Batulukisi.  Spirits Embodied:  Art of the Congo, Selections from the Helmut F. Stern Collection.  Minneapolis:  The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1999.

Physical Description
This richly detailed, carved wooden cup has been sculpted into the form of a human head. The head’s bell-shaped coiffure and facial details are typical of Kuba masks and figurines. The face features almond-shaped eyes, a protruding mouth and nose, disproportionately small ears, and eyebrows and temples that have been engilded with tiny copper staples. The neck and the coiffure bear elaborate diamond-shaped and diagonal-lined patterns which have been further embellished by cowrie shells, embedded in resin.

Primary Object Classification
Wood and Woodcarving

Primary Object Type

Collection Area

If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form. Keywords
cowrie shell
cups (drinking vessels)
symbols of office or status

& Author Notes

Web Use Permitted

On display

UMMA Gallery Location ➜ AMH, 2nd floor ➜ 205 (Albertine Monroe-Brown Study-Storage Gallery) ➜ Cabinet W ➜ Shelf 1