Palm Wine Cup

Accession Number

Palm Wine Cup


Artist Nationality

Object Creation Date
circa 1920

Medium & Support
wood and natural fibers

10 7/16 in x 4 3/4 in x 2 in (26.5 cm x 12 cm x 5 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Candis and Helmut Stern

Subject matter
This exquisite, wooden drinking vessel is attributed to the Wongo, who resided in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Carved Wongo cups assume multiple anthropomorphic forms: a head, a double head, an entire figure, a half-figure, or faces decorating the sides. This cup features a standing female figure whose coiffure, temples, and torso have been adorned with an ornate diamond-shaped motif, revealing a masterful control of the knife.
Although ostensibly a utilitarian object, a cup of this caliber of workmanship functioned more as an object of prestige and display and would have been used to drink palm wine on ceremonial occasions by esteemed members of society: chiefs, dignitaries, and practitioners of traditional medicine. Thus, 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.

A History of Art in Africa.  2nd Edition.  Eds. Monica Visona, Robin Poynor, and Herbert Cole.  Upper Saddle River, NJ:  Pearson Education, Inc., 2008. 
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 carved, dark wooden drinking vessel features a standing female figure, whose disproportionately large head is nearly one-half of the entire piece’s height. The object displays the influence of foreign styles: the body reflects a Leele aesthetic while the scarifications are reminiscent of the Kuba. The facial features, however, are distinctly Wongo.
The woman stands attentively with her palms resting on her upper thighs. Her coiffure consists of an intricate diamond-shape pattern carved in relief; diamond-shape motifs appear again as scarifications across the temples and throughout the torso, from the upper chest to the pelvis. Her facial traits include prominent cheekbones; a slightly arched eyebrow ridge that meets in the middle; and, a long, fine nose. The interior of the cup is smooth and polished. A piece of string has been loosely tied around the figure’s left leg.

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
cups (drinking vessels)
symbols of office or status
utilitarian objects
wine cups

& Author Notes

Web Use Permitted

On display

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