Smooth staff, topped by a standing, slightly elongated, rectangular male figure with angular curves at the elbows and buttocks and the hands held in front of the stomach, just below the navel (the left arm is damaged). The big feet are carved as one piece, with small incisions for the individual toes.
Artist Unknown, African, Pende peoples Democratic Republic of the Congo
Carved staffs (called "mihango") have been made in abundance by the Pende peoples of the Kwilu River area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, an area of intensive contacts between people of Pende, Lunda, and Chokwe backgrounds. These staffs, often topped by a human figure (as in this case) or a single head, were used by orators who acted as defense lawyers for the members of their lineage in case of disputes. When speaking, the orator would grasp the staff by the sculpture on top and plant it in the ground. The staffs would be left there until the judge had decided the case, which he did by rubbing white powder over the "winning" staff. Staffs were sometimes also sprinkled with goat's blood and palm wine by the winning party, but there is no evidence of that on this particular staff. Today, staffs are no longer used by Pende orators, because of religious concerns about the powerful spiritual qualities attributed to the staffs; however, Pende carvers continue to produce staffs, which are now being used as regalia by chiefs and rulers.
Gift of Margaret H. and Albert J. Coudron
Wednesday, December 1, 2021
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