Hemba Wooden Ancestor Figure

SKU PF.5484

20th Century AD


30.5″ (77.5cm) high x 7.5″ (19.1cm) wide




Democratic Republic of Congo

Gallery Location

S Korea


This sculpture is the epitome of Hemba ancestral figures. These statues are typically males, between the height of 55 to 90 cm, that stand on a circular base and characteristically have short legs, elongated torsos, hands on their stomachs, and an enlarged head with a backward- swept coiffure in the shape of a cross. The posture, with both hands resting near the navel, symbolizes that he is watching over his descendents. Before the invention of photography, the memory of deceased relatives was recorded in sculptural form, such as this example. They are idealized images that serve as a vessel for the ancestor’s spirit that was believed to play an active role in the daily lives of his surviving relative. Thus, this sculpture was not just a memorial to a long lost loved one, but also a sacred idol to be worshipped and offered sacrifices. Often these sculptures would be kept in the home, placed on a makeshift altar where libations would be given. One can still feel the spirit inhabiting this sculpture. Just look into his large, semi- circular eyes. Tranquility presides over and radiates from within. The quiet power of the figure elicits the respect that the tribe owed to their ancestors. This sculpture continues to watch over us as if we were his devotees.

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