Staff

Elaborately carved staff with, from the top: a male figure wearing Western-style clothes, with painted eyes, eyebrows, mouth, moustache, hat and clothes, sitting on a simple stool, resting his hands on his knees; a U-shaped snake on one side and a mortar on the other; a pair of a male and a female figure on either side (the male is standing on one leg, bending the other at the knee to make a triangle); a dark black spherical form; a row of three turtles on one side and two salamanders and a frog on the other; and finally three outstretched snakes (painted yellow, brown and red, respectively), one of them eating a small frog.
Artist Unknown, African, Kongo peoples Democratic Republic of the Congo
1900-1970
In the precolonial kingdom of Kongo, royal staffs (called "mvwala," and often--unlike here-- topped by ivory carvings) showed the authority of the ruler and his control over occult forces. They were used primarily during judicial procedings and rituals. In this particular example, the European-style clothes worn by the male figure reflect the gifts and trade items that were exchanged by Kongolese and Portugues rulers and traders since the 1500s. The artistic representation of these items continued after the end of the actual trade and indicates the high status of the owner of the staff.
Gift of Margaret H. and Albert J. Coudron
2001/2.42
Wednesday, December 1, 2021