Janus heads with elaborate headgear top a staff with a long, thin shaft and broader hourglass-shaped sections with a stylized human head in the middle of each one. The staff is covered with carved geometrical patterns of triangles, lozenges and lines, and ends in a metal-coiled tip at the bottom; it is heavy and has a shiny black patina.
Artist Unknown, African, Luba People Democratic Republic of the Congo
Luba staffs are like maps or historic documents that tell the story of the genealogy of a particular leader, the history of his lineage and its relations to the precolonial Luba kingdom. No two staffs are the same, because no two chiefs or locations share the exact same history. The Janus heads on a staff of office like this one represent the twin spirits of Luba kingship, Mpanga and Banze. The long, thin shaft of the staff represents the wilderness, while the two broad sections indicate specific "dibulu," or administrative royal centers, with the heads pointing to particular locales of rich natural resources (and to the earth spirits guarding such wealth). As a whole, the staff records the journey from the royal center at the top to the local leader's own village at the bottom.
Gift of Margaret H. and Albert J. Coudron
Friday, February 3, 2023
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