Graves are of special importance to the tribes of
the Congo and other central African peoples, not
just as resting places for the dead but also as
points of contact with the deceased. Although
generally associated with the Mboma tribe,
peoples on either side of the Congo River estuary
carve figures in stone, using techniques modeled
from ancient wood-sculpting traditions. These
figures were called ntadi, a word that probably
comes from tadi, "stone," but may also refer to
tala, "to look at," implying that the figures are
witnesses in this world for the deceased in the
other. Found on graves in abandoned
cemeteries, the ntadi statues are often
discovered deeply imbedded in the earth.
Questions about the age and tribal function of
these remarkable sculptures remain plaguing.
This striking ntadi represents a mother and her
suckling child. Resting in her lap, the infant
feeds upon her swollen breasts, reflecting the
fecundity and fertility of the woman. The mother
wears a beaded necklace and a tight-fitting skull
cap, both of which reflect her wealth and high-
ranking position within her society. This
mysterious sculpture is even more spectacular
when one considers where it was placed. Might
this statue have marked the grave of a deceased
mother whose offspring memorialized her being?
Perhaps this figure is a medium through which
her descendants can continue to communicate
with her. The theme of this work suggests that,
although departed, this mother will continue
nurturing her children from beyond.