The double gongs were used by the oba (king) during the Emobo ceremony to drive away evil spirits. The carvings on this gong, one of only 6 known to exist, depicts the oba supported by his military commander and his heir. This is one of the oldest surviving African ivory sculptures.
This figure most likely stood on an altar dedicated to a deceased oba. His attire indicates that he is a court official and the leopard tooth necklace was only worn by warriors. The horn that the figure once held may have been used for ceremonial purposes.
Within the kingdoms of Cameroon, masks are often associated with a secret society of men called the Nsoro who maintain social order by acting as a police force and court of law. Masks are worn during the funerals of a society member and other official duties. It is placed atop of the head, commanding awe and respect.
Among the Dogon, jewelry may signify that the owner is linked to ancestors or spiritual leaders, or identify the wearer as a priest or a caretaker of a particular altar. The two seated figures probably represent Nommo, the original beings created by God, Amma, who may be symbolized by the central face. The necklace was probably worn by an important chief, or hogon.
This vessel was created for use in Longuda kwandalha healing divination. After a healer determined the cause of a patient’s ailment, the patient would be given a newly constructed vessel into which the disease would be transferred. The pots tend to look like the symptoms described by the patient and are highly expressive.
An nkisi nkondi served as a container for potent ingredients used in magic and medicine for judicial and healing purposes. They were made by a Kongo carver sculpting a male human or animal figure with a cavity in the abdomen. A ritual expert would later put ingredients with supernatural powers in and on the nkisis nkondi. Nails and blades were driven into the figure to either affirm an oath or destroy an evil force.
The Power Figures are important because of their effectiveness as protectors of the community from malevolent forces and disease. The Nkishi gains its power from the ingredients, bishimbi, concealed in the abdominal cavity, in the top of the head, or in a horn set into the cranium. The aganga is the spiritual practitioner who creates the bishimbi.
Eraminho are repositories for the souls of the dead. The Bijago people believe that the soul lives on after the body as long as the deceased person is remembered by the family. The Eraminho is presented with sacrifices for the deceased’s soul.
The central panel of this icon depicts the Virgin and Child of Christianity, flanked by archangels Gabriel and Michael. The left panel depicts Saint George, above, slaying the dragon, and Takla and Haymonat, below, two local saints. The right panel depicts the Resurrection, represented by Christ releasing Adam and Eve from “Limbo.”
Embodying a subversive force within the royal court, the Bwoom masquerade is often performed in conflict with the masked figure representing Woot – the creator and founder of the ruling dynasty within the Kuba mythology.
The back of this chair features a cikunga mask, a symbol of chieftaincy. The figures on the rungs depict scenes from daily and ceremonial life.
Here the mask is sewn directly onto the costume of looped bark and fiber which fits tightly over the body of the performer. Seedpod rattles and metal bells add a musical effect to the performance. The mask is a depiction of a woman, but the dance itself is only performed by men. To own and wear a mask, the male performer must symbolically marry it by paying the carver a copper ring as a dowrie. This gesture signifies that the owner will honor and care for the spirit represented by the mask. In return, the dancer is able to derive a livelihood from performing at local festivals.
The horns of this mask are filled with substances that protect the wearer from sorcerer spells. The mask is heavily encrusted with blood and with chewed kola nut. X-rays show a miniature metal bowl, an arrow point, and rifle shell casings within the mask – all to increase the mask’s power.
Textiles are found throughout Africa but belong to very distinct political, social, religious and personal contexts in their respective cultures.
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Photographs by Ajua Hawkins
Copyright Ajua Hawkins 2014