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Re: [African_Arts] Items from Congo DRC

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  • Lee Rubinstein
    In addition to axes with simpler handles, there does seem to be a variety of Luba prestige axes with which to compare the one you have been offered. These
    Message 1 of 5 , Mar 18 3:30 PM
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      In addition to axes with simpler handles, there does seem to be a variety of Luba "prestige axes" with which to compare the one you have been offered.  These examples below -- from the NMAfA, AMNH and MEG are three quickly accessible examples, displaying both full figures as well as those with only the head carved.   All are constructed with the blade protruding from the mouth (sometimes described as a "tongue," although I don't know whether that terminology is merely descriptive or perhaps reference to associated symbolism.  Interestingly, there seems to be as much diversity in the shape of the blades as there are stylistic variations in the carving of the figure, or head, in wood.
      Luba peoples 
      Democratic Republic of the Congo 
      Late 19th-early 20th century 
      Wood, iron, copper 
      H x W x D: 34 x 10.2 x 9.5 cm (13 3/8 x 4 x 3 3/4 in.) 
      Museum purchase 
      85-15-14 
      Gift of De Havenon (1966)/AMNH Cat No. 0.2/ 5078


      Additional examples in which the blade is inserted at the end opposite that which displays the carved head are at the MEG (below) as well as one on the site of the Smith College Museum of Art:  http://www.smith.edu/artmuseum/collections/african/

      This particular example (above) displays a different hairstyle but is otherwise quite similar in construction and form to the first of two Gussman examples in the Roberts' book, Memory:  Luba Art and the Making of History (Cat No. 12, p. 48), which is embellished with metal plating on the handle and the placement of iron pins.  An example in Munich  (Cat No. 23, p. 77 of the same book) is similar in form and also embellished with metal plating and iron pins.  The second Gussman example is an adze rather than an axe (Cat. No. 24, p. 72 -- now at the Neuberger[detail]), which does not have metal-plating on the shaft, but does, however, have the iron pins which are "symbols of the sacred anvil, secret of blacksmithing and the Luba kingdoms success." (p. 72)  Among the features which the example above and the two Gussman axes all display is the incised geometric design in the wood.  Further, the Roberts refer to the significance of the incised geometric designs on the blades as well.  Here is a passage that gives some insight into the details which have been observed in seemingly fine examples of Luba axes as well as some historical and symbolic details that offer depth and color to the consideration:

      "Beautifully wrought ceremonial axes, with incised geometric designs on the blades and finely sculpted female heads on the shafts, belonged not only to Luba kings and chiefs but to high-ranking title-holders, female spirit mediums secret-association members, and diviners.  They were worn over the shoulder to signify rank and title, and also were wielded in dance and other court ceremonials.  Ancient axes very similar to nineteenth century examples have been excavated in first-millennium graves in the Upemba Depression, and provide evidence for the antiquity of a political order based  on metal-working technologies in the Luba area." (p. 49)

      The discussion on pages 76-78 of Memory also illuminates other important details including instances of use and explications of history and symbolism that can be brought to bear on assessing what is likely to be a plethora and diversity of Luba axes in circulation.  In addition to their association with Kalala Ilunga, mythic progenitor of Luba royal ancestry and ritual, axes of specific types and characteristics have been noted to traditionally represent a variety of ritual and political functions in Luba society.  Unique features can be explored to assess the authenticity of a specific example as well as the plausible attribution of its possible meanings and functions.

      ***********
      With regard to the Salampasu masks, I would suggest reading Elisabeth Cameron's extensive article on "Sala Mpasu Masks," which appears on pages 34-43 (and notes on p. 98) of African Arts XXII, No. 1 (November, 1988).  In addition to finding extensive documentation and research relating to the history and meaning of both fiber and carved wood/metal-plated Sala Mpasu masks and surveying the relevant literature prior to 1988, you will be most interested in a portion of her closing remarks as they refer more specifically to the current/recent availability of these masks and the contexts in which these masks are suggested to be/have been produced:

      "In the early 1960s the Sala Mpasu destroyed their masks and disbanded the mungongo [warrior society].  [William Franklin] Pruitt argues that these actions were intended to reinforce the authority of the new chiefs and 'were symbolic of a determined effort to move into contemporary life...' [Joseph] Cornet reported in 1975, however, that the Sala Mpasu had since 'increased their production of masks in order to supply growing demand'... Although the source of that demand is not specified, it seems certain that is was, and still is, the European and American art market." (p. 42)

      Also, see Cameron's 2004 "sequel" (Elisabeth -- not James --Cameron), "Dancing a New Face: Contemporary Sala Mpasu Masquerade" (AA, Volume XXXVII, No. 2, Summer, 2004) for a description of the Sala Mpasu masquerade she observed in 1989 in Sambuyi marking the return of new initiates to the village.

      ************
      Briefly and finally, if you haven't already done so, you will wish to see Thomas D. B and Pamela A.R. Blakely's article, "So'o Masks and Hemba Funerary Festival" (AA, Volume XXI, No, 1, November, 1987, pp. 30-37, notes p. 84) for discussion with images of examples in performance which very closely resemble the one in the image you presented -- complete with fur and bark cloth appended.

      Lee


      On Mar 18, 2008, at 11:34 AM, congabongoman wrote:

      Hello all-

      I've just posted photos in an album called "Luba, Hemba, Salampasu" [http://ph.groups. yahoo.com/ group/African_ Arts/photos/ browse/910f]
      of items I'm acquiring or considering and would appreciate any input 
      from the group.

      These are from a good friend of mine (now living in Tanzania) who has 
      developed relationships with a few trusted runners and acquires high-
      end, authentic pieces from areas in the DRC.

      The first is a fine Luba-Shankadi, anthropomorphic prestige ax with a 
      full torso and detached arms (the picture is a close-up). Has anyone 
      ever seems a similar piece? They appear to be quite rare. Tho' 
      relatively expensive, acquiring this was a no-brainer for me.

      Second are pics of a complete old Hemba so'o mutu costume with 
      colobus fur and bark cloth skirting. I've seen a few similar pieces 
      (this is the first my friend has seen with the bark cloth attached) 
      and I've been offered a fairly reasonable price--does anyone have any 
      thoughts as to the rarity of this item or a guess as to market value?

      Finally, are pics of an old Salampasu mask of good quality. The 
      wicker balls were recently replaced on the top but the mask is 
      otherwise very old and in pretty good condition--with shiny patina 
      inside from apparent wear. I've read some interesting things about 
      Salampasu masks--some from the Turveren museum that suggest none are 
      used tribally anymore and that they are the collector's version 
      of "Airport Art." Friends in Africa suggest that such statements are 
      an effort to devalue African pieces acquired in the post-colonial era 
      in favor of "papered" pieces acquired earlier by colonial Europeans. 
      My friend points out that there are very fine "authentic" pieces 
      still coming out of DRC--either comtemporary but nonetheless tribally 
      used or that are old and have been stashed away and only sold when 
      the person is in need of cash (ie., births, deaths, funerals, 
      baptisms, etc.) Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Also, does 
      anyone with expertise on Salampasu masks have any observations on 
      this mask and/or the topic in general?

      As always, thanks for your input. Best Regards,

      Chris


    • congabongoman
      Lee- Many thanks for your always thorough and amazingly well documented information on the issues. I have the Roberts book, which is an excellent reference
      Message 2 of 5 , Mar 19 5:57 AM
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        Lee-

        Many thanks for your always thorough and amazingly well documented
        information on the issues. I have the Roberts' book, which is an
        excellent reference source but I don't have the AA issues you
        reference. All of the pictures of axes in the possession of Luba
        royalty (versus museum pieces) in the Roberts' book have fairly plain
        handles with little embellishment. The Roberts mention that, in
        addition to chiefs, dignitaries and Mbudye society members, axes were
        also possessed by spirit mediums/soothsayers and that the blade
        coming out of the "head" of the ax may be symbolic of "clearing away
        confusion" and the cutting edge of discourse, versus the general
        symbolism of the ax representing "clearing the path" to civilization
        (ie, honoring the Luba progenitor who brought iron working to the
        Luba) and leading the way for others. Given this clear symbolism in
        the example I've purchased but not yet acquired, I would not be
        surprised if it was perhaps owned by a spirit medium of some sort, as
        opposed to a dignitary, etc., tho' this is clear speculation and will
        surely never be verified.

        Does anyone know of existing so'o mutu costumes in either museums or
        for sale by galleries/private collectors? Again, I'm not asking any
        opinions on the authenticity of the pieces I shared, just general
        questions about the rarity of similar pieces.

        Your info on the Salampasu masks is quite interesting--suggesting
        both that most such pieces are likely made for sale but also that
        some may continue to be tribally used, at least to a limited extent.

        Thanks again for your assistance. -Chris

        --- In African_Arts@yahoogroups.com, Lee Rubinstein
        <LeeRubinstein@...> wrote:
        >
        > In addition to axes with simpler handles, there does seem to be a
        > variety of Luba "prestige axes" with which to compare the one you
        > have been offered. These examples below -- from the NMAfA, AMNH
        and
        > MEG are three quickly accessible examples, displaying both full
        > figures as well as those with only the head carved. All are
        > constructed with the blade protruding from the mouth (sometimes
        > described as a "tongue," although I don't know whether that
        > terminology is merely descriptive or perhaps reference to
        associated
        > symbolism. Interestingly, there seems to be as much diversity in
        the
        > shape of the blades as there are stylistic variations in the
        carving
        > of the figure, or head, in wood.
        > 
        > Luba peoples
        > Democratic Republic of the Congo
        > Late 19th-early 20th century
        > Wood, iron, copper
        > H x W x D: 34 x 10.2 x 9.5 cm (13 3/8 x 4 x 3 3/4 in.)
        > Museum purchase
        > 85-15-14
        > 
        > Gift of De Havenon (1966)/AMNH Cat No. 0.2/ 5078
        >
        > 
        > http://www.ville-ge.ch/meg/public.php?id=044486
        >
        > Additional examples in which the blade is inserted at the end
        > opposite that which displays the carved head are at the MEG
        (below)
        > as well as one on the site of the Smith College Museum of Art:
        > http://www.smith.edu/artmuseum/collections/african/
        > 
        > MEG: http://www.ville-ge.ch/meg/public.php?id=039384.
        >
        > This particular example (above) displays a different hairstyle but
        is
        > otherwise quite similar in construction and form to the first of
        two
        > Gussman examples in the Roberts' book, Memory: Luba Art and the
        > Making of History (Cat No. 12, p. 48), which is embellished with
        > metal plating on the handle and the placement of iron pins. An
        > example in Munich (Cat No. 23, p. 77 of the same book) is similar
        in
        > form and also embellished with metal plating and iron pins. The
        > second Gussman example is an adze rather than an axe (Cat. No. 24,
        p.
        > 72 -- now at the Neuberger[detail]), which does not have metal-
        > plating on the shaft, but does, however, have the iron pins which
        are
        > "symbols of the sacred anvil, secret of blacksmithing and the Luba
        > kingdoms success." (p. 72) Among the features which the example
        > above and the two Gussman axes all display is the incised
        geometric
        > design in the wood. Further, the Roberts refer to the
        significance
        > of the incised geometric designs on the blades as well. Here is a
        > passage that gives some insight into the details which have been
        > observed in seemingly fine examples of Luba axes as well as some
        > historical and symbolic details that offer depth and color to the
        > consideration:
        >
        > "Beautifully wrought ceremonial axes, with incised geometric
        designs
        > on the blades and finely sculpted female heads on the shafts,
        > belonged not only to Luba kings and chiefs but to high-ranking
        title-
        > holders, female spirit mediums secret-association members, and
        > diviners. They were worn over the shoulder to signify rank and
        > title, and also were wielded in dance and other court
        ceremonials.
        > Ancient axes very similar to nineteenth century examples have been
        > excavated in first-millennium graves in the Upemba Depression, and
        > provide evidence for the antiquity of a political order based on
        > metal-working technologies in the Luba area." (p. 49)
        >
        > The discussion on pages 76-78 of Memory also illuminates other
        > important details including instances of use and explications of
        > history and symbolism that can be brought to bear on assessing
        what
        > is likely to be a plethora and diversity of Luba axes in
        > circulation. In addition to their association with Kalala Ilunga,
        > mythic progenitor of Luba royal ancestry and ritual, axes of
        specific
        > types and characteristics have been noted to traditionally
        represent
        > a variety of ritual and political functions in Luba society.
        Unique
        > features can be explored to assess the authenticity of a specific
        > example as well as the plausible attribution of its possible
        meanings
        > and functions.
        >
        > ***********
        > With regard to the Salampasu masks, I would suggest reading
        Elisabeth
        > Cameron's extensive article on "Sala Mpasu Masks," which appears
        on
        > pages 34-43 (and notes on p. 98) of African Arts XXII, No. 1
        > (November, 1988). In addition to finding extensive documentation
        and
        > research relating to the history and meaning of both fiber and
        carved
        > wood/metal-plated Sala Mpasu masks and surveying the relevant
        > literature prior to 1988, you will be most interested in a portion
        of
        > her closing remarks as they refer more specifically to the current/
        > recent availability of these masks and the contexts in which these
        > masks are suggested to be/have been produced:
        >
        > "In the early 1960s the Sala Mpasu destroyed their masks and
        > disbanded the mungongo [warrior society]. [William Franklin]
        Pruitt
        > argues that these actions were intended to reinforce the authority
        of
        > the new chiefs and 'were symbolic of a determined effort to move
        into
        > contemporary life...' [Joseph] Cornet reported in 1975, however,
        that
        > the Sala Mpasu had since 'increased their production of masks in
        > order to supply growing demand'... Although the source of that
        demand
        > is not specified, it seems certain that is was, and still is, the
        > European and American art market." (p. 42)
        >
        > Also, see Cameron's 2004 "sequel" (Elisabeth -- not James --
        Cameron),
        > "Dancing a New Face: Contemporary Sala Mpasu Masquerade" (AA,
        Volume
        > XXXVII, No. 2, Summer, 2004) for a description of the Sala Mpasu
        > masquerade she observed in 1989 in Sambuyi marking the return of
        new
        > initiates to the village.
        >
        > ************
        > Briefly and finally, if you haven't already done so, you will wish
        to
        > see Thomas D. B and Pamela A.R. Blakely's article, "So'o Masks and
        > Hemba Funerary Festival" (AA, Volume XXI, No, 1, November, 1987,
        pp.
        > 30-37, notes p. 84) for discussion with images of examples in
        > performance which very closely resemble the one in the image you
        > presented -- complete with fur and bark cloth appended.
        >
        > Lee
        >
        >
        > On Mar 18, 2008, at 11:34 AM, congabongoman wrote:
        >
        > > Hello all-
        > >
        > > I've just posted photos in an album called "Luba, Hemba,
        > > Salampasu" [http://ph.groups.yahoo.com/group/African_Arts/photos/
        > > browse/910f]
        > > of items I'm acquiring or considering and would appreciate any
        input
        > > from the group.
        > >
        > > These are from a good friend of mine (now living in Tanzania) who
        has
        > > developed relationships with a few trusted runners and acquires
        high-
        > > end, authentic pieces from areas in the DRC.
        > >
        > > The first is a fine Luba-Shankadi, anthropomorphic prestige ax
        with a
        > > full torso and detached arms (the picture is a close-up). Has
        anyone
        > > ever seems a similar piece? They appear to be quite rare. Tho'
        > > relatively expensive, acquiring this was a no-brainer for me.
        > >
        > > Second are pics of a complete old Hemba so'o mutu costume with
        > > colobus fur and bark cloth skirting. I've seen a few similar
        pieces
        > > (this is the first my friend has seen with the bark cloth
        attached)
        > > and I've been offered a fairly reasonable price--does anyone have
        any
        > > thoughts as to the rarity of this item or a guess as to market
        value?
        > >
        > > Finally, are pics of an old Salampasu mask of good quality. The
        > > wicker balls were recently replaced on the top but the mask is
        > > otherwise very old and in pretty good condition--with shiny patina
        > > inside from apparent wear. I've read some interesting things about
        > > Salampasu masks--some from the Turveren museum that suggest none
        are
        > > used tribally anymore and that they are the collector's version
        > > of "Airport Art." Friends in Africa suggest that such statements
        are
        > > an effort to devalue African pieces acquired in the post-colonial
        era
        > > in favor of "papered" pieces acquired earlier by colonial
        Europeans.
        > > My friend points out that there are very fine "authentic" pieces
        > > still coming out of DRC--either comtemporary but nonetheless
        tribally
        > > used or that are old and have been stashed away and only sold when
        > > the person is in need of cash (ie., births, deaths, funerals,
        > > baptisms, etc.) Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Also, does
        > > anyone with expertise on Salampasu masks have any observations on
        > > this mask and/or the topic in general?
        > >
        > > As always, thanks for your input. Best Regards,
        > >
        > > Chris
        > >
        > >
        > >
        >
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