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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Miscellaneous : Bakongo Ivory Fly Whisk Handle
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Bakongo Ivory Fly Whisk Handle - DJ.1041 (LSO)
Origin: Zaire
Circa: 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 14" (35.6cm) high
Collection: African Art
Medium: Ivory

Location: United States
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This attractive ivory piece was made by the Kongo (or Bakongo) people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola and the Congo. Its sinuous shape and motifs identify it as a fly-whisk handle, a piece of regalia associated with chiefs and the exercise of power within the Kongo polity. The representation is typical. The chief is shown in a seated position, on an ornate stool which is, in fact, located upon the head of a bound prisoner who is kneeling beneath him. The chief’s contempt for the subjugated man is exemplified in his aggressive expression, exaggerated by the pipe he is clenching in his teeth. He is sparsely but richly adorned, with a very tall crown and jewellery. The source of his power is the object held in his left hand, the Munkwiza root, a supernatural device associated with Kongo kingship. The surface has mellowed with age and usage

By the end of the 15th century the Kongo were living in a series of loosely-connected yet autonomous kingdoms. They had a fairly peaceable relationship with early Portuguese explorers, perhaps because the Kongo kingdom was so large and powerful. The kingdom absorbed European traditions and religion without excess bloodshed, and, more importantly, with much of their indigenous culture intact.

Indigenous Kongo society was essentially based around the kingship model, with extensive arrays of civil servants and court officials. Their religious beliefs are based around a reverence for the dead who are believed to be able to assist in the determination of future destinies. They are also believed to inhabit minkisi (singular nkisi) figures, which can be appealed to for assistance in times of duress or uncertainty. The most notable examples are Nkisi Nkondi figures – often referred to as nail fetishes – which carry a packet of magical materials known as a bilongo, and are manipulated by the magic man (nganga) to appease spirits and turn them to one’s own advantage. The kingship system has also generated a considerable range of court regalia, designed to exalt the royal family and attribute them with real or imagined powers over their foes. The materials from which they made echoed their wealth, ivory being even more costly and rare than precious metals. This is an example of such a tradition.

Pieces such as this are integral parts of Kongo governance and are thus not only striking pieces of art in their own right but also rare and highly socially significant items that are on a par with western crown jewels and other such paraphernalia. This is an exceptional piece of African art.

- (DJ.1041 (LSO))


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