Chokwe Terracotta Monkey Vessel

SKU BF.013

1850 AD to 1910 AD


22″ (55.9cm) high x 16″ (40.6cm) wide




Southwestern Congo/Angola/Zambia

Gallery Location

S Korea


This amusing and attractive piece seems to have been made by the Chokwe people of Angola/Zaire, although it is remarkably unusual and may be an exceptional object from another tribe. It is a very substantial terracotta vessel which has been shaped partially into low relief arms that come together on the front of the vessel as if around a bulging abdomen. To augment the zoomorphic impression, the top of the vessel has been formed into the face and head of a monkey, the back of whose head can be detached to access the interior of the vessel. It is clearly a container of some sort – perhaps for water – and the personage portrayed seems to be wealthy to judge from his/her large hoop earrings and necklace.

The Chokwe (Tchokwe) of Angola and Zaire are a highly complex and multifaceted group. The mwanangana (local ruler) held sway over a deeply ritualised and religious environment where every element, no matter how disparate, would be forced to obey his authority. In order to make manifest the validity of his rule, the rulers and other members of the elite often hired specialist artesans and craftsmen whose skills exceeded those of the Songi and Fuli, semi- professional craftsmen who were responsible for the production of utiltarian and everyday objects. The specialists manufactured regalia and magicoreligious artefacts, such as ancestor statues and representations of Tshibinda Ilunga (the semi-mythical founder of the Chokwe) and their work is highly refined and of great value.

Conceptualisation, execution and condition are all excellent. This is a charming piece of African art.

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