Power Figure

Accession Number

Power Figure


Artist Nationality
Luba (culture or style)

Object Creation Date
circa 1850

Medium & Support
hippopotamus ivory

3 7/8 in x 1 1/4 in x 1 5/8 in (9.9 cm x 3.1 cm x 4.1 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Candis and Helmut Stern

Subject matter
This hippopotamus ivory statuette-pendant is one of a pair that are attributed to the Luba from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, both displaying the hallmark characteristics of their stylistic form. Both statuettes have been carved by the same hand and depict female figures, falling under the Luba sculptural genre known as mikishi mihasi, a type of power figure that physically embodies the spirit of deceased relatives or benevolent ancestors. Mikishi mihasi can take the form of medium-, small-, and, as is the case with these pendants, diminutive-sized figures. Acting as protective amulets, the wearer summons these female spirits in order to procure good health, fortune, and safety against any harm. More importantly, the pose of holding both breasts serves as a visual reminder of the female spirits’ assured assistance in fertility, and by extension, the continuation of the lineage—a chief concern among the community.

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
As one of a pair of delicately carved, ivory statuette-pendants, this female figure stands upright, as opposed to her counterpart whose head and upper body lean slightly forward. Both, however, have a round head with a convex face; large, coffeebean-shaped eyes; a rectangular mouth with prominent lips; a cylindrical neck; and, a coiffure decorated on the back with a cruciform pattern. Additionally, both female figures clutch their breasts in their hands. The statuettes have been pierced through, allowing them to suspend from a string.

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type

Additional Object Classification(s)

Collection Area

If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit http://umma.umich.edu/request-image for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form. Keywords
ivories (sculptures)
pendants (jewelry)
protection (maintenance function)

& Author Notes

Web Use Permitted

On display

UMMA Gallery Location ➜ AMH, 2nd floor ➜ 205 (Albertine Monroe-Brown Study-Storage Gallery) ➜ Cabinet W ➜ Shelf 3