The Kuba are a large tribe comprised of various
smaller entities that are quasi-autonomous
within the Kuba polity but are related
genetically and artistically. Their social systems
are headed by the “Mushenge” who are
responsible for the spiritual and material
wealth of the populace. The kingdom was
founded in the early 17th century by a major
leader named Shyaam a-Mbul a Ngoong-
Shyaam, who exploited trade networks and
became very wealthy. Kuba religion is based
upon a creator god named MBoom, while more
immediate concerns were dealt with by a
being named Woot; the Kuba are thus also
known as the Children of Woot.
Kuba art is often extremely ornate and varied,
and tends to revolve around courtly regalia.
Their large wood sculptures – including Ndop
king sculptures – have an apotropaic function.
Many pieces are decorated with cowrie shells,
linear motifs and Tukula/twool (red camwood
powder). They decorate utilitarian objects to
such an extent that they have been described
as a people who cannot bear to leave a surface
without ornament. They are perhaps best
known for their boxes (ngedi mu ntey) and
palm wine cups, which were used as markers
of status in the royal courts.
The stunning, naturalistic representation of an
older, seated man upon a stool has been
carved from a dark, heavy wood. Stools are
the traditional symbol of authority in sub-
Saharan Africa. As such, both his posture and
his ornamentation, including bracelets,
armbands, a necklace, and a headdress,
attest to his identity as the king of his people.
He wears his age, notably in his large belly,
protruding breasts, and prominent sagging
chin. His face, clearly a portrait rendered in
striking naturalism, also has been worn by
time. This remarkable figure may have been
commissioned by the king himself, or it may
have been carved shortly after his passing as a
memorial to the tribe's fallen leader.