This intimidating wooden sculpture of a monkey appears to be the core of a puppet which is missing its arms and legs. The body is corpulent, with narrow shoulders and a large abdomen; there is a circular dished area in the centre of the chest. The head is high and domed, with arched brows, hollow eye sockets with protuberant eyes, a thin nose and a gaping mouth with distinct lips. The features are somewhat skeletal in appearance. Skeletal monkeys are known for the Baule, but the centre of the forehead is decorated with an uncommon variant of the cingelyengelye, a mark denoting specific affinity within the Chokwe group.
The Chokwe (Tchokwe) of Angola and Zaire are a highly complex and multifaceted polity. The mwanangana (local ruler) held sway over a deeply ritualised and religious environment where every element, no matter how disparate, would be forced to obey his authority. In order to make manifest the validity of his rule, the rulers and other members of the elite often hired specialist artesans and craftsmen whose skills exceeded those of the Songi and Fuli, semi- professional craftsmen who were responsible for the production of utiltarian and everyday objects. The specialists manufactured regalia and magico-religious artefacts, such as ancestor statues and representations of Tshibinda Ilunga (the semi-mythical founder of the Chokwe) and their work is highly refined and of great value.
This rare Chokwe piece is an impressive piece of African art.
- (FJ.0016 (LSO))