Negro Art in
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The author, Leon Kochnitzky, studied in his
native city, Brussels and in Utrecht. Doctor of
Philosophy, University of Bologna. Italy. Re-
ceived the Prix Francois Copp6e from the
Acad6mie Francaise, 1919. Private secretary to
Gabriele d'Annunzio (1919-1920). Published
seven volumes of poetry (a French translation
of Shakespeare's Sonnets, Elegies Bruxelloises.
e.a.). Editor of La Revue Musicale, Paris. Con-
tributed regularly to the Osservatore Romano
and to Les Nouvelles Litt(raires. Lectured at the
Ecole Libre des Hautes Etudes, New York. In
chargee of French section of Belgian program of
OWI overseas branch from 1942-1946, under the
penname of Giraud d'Uccle.
An African work of art is almost isolated from its cultural
background. It has to be considered and studied without the help
of little-known African history. The social, economic and religious
evolution of the Dark Continent throws little light on the real
meaning of such work. The only part of human knowledge to
which the art historian can have recourse for information is
ethnology. This is the chief reason why the study of African art
has, for a whole century, been so strongly linked to this science.
Ethnology and aesthetics do not make a happy marriage. The
ethnologist is not concerned with the artistic significance of the
objects he examines. He cares nothing for the spirit that pervades
the statue or the mask he handles; and he remains indifferent to
the feeling that inspired the work. Even the technique and the
style employed by the artist are of no interest to him, if they do
not allow him to ascertain some purely material facts concerning
the evolution of culture or the degree of civilization attained by
And yet, during the whole period of discovery of Africa
Tenebrosa, it was the ethnologist, and not the art scholar, who
was the keeper and often the possessor of the treasures discovered
by the explorer. Independent research was out of the question.
The art scholar, unaware of the treasures that had perhaps been
discarded, was forced to enter the museum of the ethnologist, to
accept the latter's indoctrination, his classification in short, the
learned man's opinion.
Science is not to be blamed for this astounding state of affairs.
On the contrary, we must be grateful to these scientists who saved
and preserved from destruction the beautiful relics in which we
delight. The positivist and materialistic spirit that pervaded the
whole European culture of the XIXth century bears the respon-
sibility for this situation. The general theory of evolution, the
belief in everlasting progress, had imposed rigid notions concern-
ing the culture of the so-called primitive peoples. As Carter G.
Woodson puts it, up to about forty years ago, the fetish sculptures,
ritualistic masks and carvings of the Africans were laughed at as
poor efforts compared with modern art, and the early explorers
and travellers in Africa considered these images of persons and
things as evidence of backwardness. (1)
It must be recognized that the artistic tendencies dominating
Europe during the last century share with the scientific authorities
the responsibility for the neglect of African art. The efforts
towards naturalistic excellence, the desire to come closer to reality
and the unceasing fidelity to the Greek canon of art contributed
largely in estranging the European artist and the art scholar from
the imaginary world of Negro art, where style and symbol were
superimposed in the vision of the craftsmen.
A consideration of the European invented word fetish, so
often applied to African statuettes, illustrates this estrangement.
Fetish comes from the Portuguese feitico, a fabricated object,
a fake, equivalent to the Latin adjective factitius, the French
factice, the Italian fittizio. It became popular after the publication
of De Brosse's essay Du culte des Dieux Fetiches (1750). It corres-
ponds to nothing that exists in Africa. In his Dictionnaire de la
Langue Franfaise, Littr6 gives the following definition of a fetish:
idole grossiere qu'adorent les Negres (a coarse idol adored by the
Negroes). Now, we know that an African statuette is not an idol,
that it is seldom coarse, and that the Negroes do not adore it.
During the XVIIIth century, the passion for exoticism and
the exaltation in literary circles of primitive life, of the bons
sauvages (the good savages) led to the collecting of curiosities
gathered from remote lands. It was but poor treasure-trove, a sort
of picturesque bric-a-brac piled up without the slightest discrimina-
tion. But the collector's approach was pure, not inspired by a
mere desire for information or classification. He aimed at spiritual
enjoyment alone. This enjoyment did not spring, as ours does,
from the contemplation of a beautiful thing; it proceeded rather
from the activity of the imagination, deeply moved at the aspect
of the exotic object which acted as a vehicle for flights of fantasy.
Before what we would call the "ethnological age" had come
to an end, a certain revival of this taste for exoticism was notice-
able in many European countries. The big "world-fairs," so
characteristic of XIXth century aspirations, displayed huge geogra-
phical models in which African arts and crafts, statues and masks
found their place. Objects from the Congo were shown for the
first time at the International Exhibition of Antwerp in 1894;
others, three years later, at the Exhibition of Brussels. The royal
castle of Tervueren, eight miles from the Belgian capital, and
the wonderful park surrounding the castle were given up to the
Congo Exhibition. Negro villages were built in the park, and
the products .and objects grouped in the building later formed
the nucleus of the Congo Museum collections.
The American scholar Robert J. Goldwater, in his fine book
on Primitivism in Modern Painting (2) has studied the gradual
development of the more human understanding of the primitive
people's aesthetic values. The scientist, layman, amateur and
artist have participated in this evolution, in which explorers and
travellers, colonial, military and civil servants likewise played their
parts. At the turn of the century, there was considerable change
in the ideas of both learned and ignorant alike on the subject of
the "Negro fetish."
Suddenly, this evolution was followed by an outburst of en-
thusiasm, that, in reality, could almost be called a revolution in
the appreciation of plastic art. This was in 1905. The artisans of
this unexpected discovery of African "things of beauty" were a few
young painters living in Paris, and some of their friends poets
Today, as James Johnson Sweeney puts it, African Negro
art no longer represents the mere untutored rumblings of the
savage. Nor, on the other hand, do its picturesque or exotic char-
acteristics blind us any.longer to its essential plastic seriousness,
moving dramatic qualities, eminent craftsmanship and sensibility
to material, as well as to the relationship of material with form and
African history is little known; it lacks the continuity and
the synchronism that enable us to get the full perspective that we
possess of so many ancient civilizations, e.g. the Chinese, the
Byzantine and the Inca. But every Mediterranean civilization, at
a certain epoch, has endeavored to solve the African mystery. The
history of the Nasamonian youths, related by Herodotus (1,32)
assumes a symbolic significance. This is how Rawlinson trans-
lates it: "Some wild young men, the sons of certain chiefs, when
they came to'man's estate, indulged in all manner of extravagancies
and, among other things, drew lots for five of their number to
go and explore the desert places of Lybia and try if they could
not penetrate further than any had done previously ." The
Nasamonian youths, after crossing deserts and swamps for days
and days, "were seized by some dwarfish men who led them across
extensive marshes, until they finally came to a town, where all
men were black-complexioned. A great river flowed by the town,
running from West to East ."
Whether the river flowing from West to East was the Niger
cannot be historically proved, although it seems very probable.
In the VIth century B.C., the Carthaginian fleet, commanded
by Hanno, swept along the African coast, probably as far as the
island of Fernando Po.
Charles de la Ronciere in his splendid Decouverte de I'Afrique
au Moyen-Age (4), tells us how the first information on the great
African empires came down to us through the works of Arabic
Ghana, Manding, Songhai, Mossi and Afno developed con-
siderable power in the Nigerian and Sudanese areas; some of them
established dynasties that lasted for many centuries. These African
empires can be located on the planispheres and portulans designed
by the Jews of Majorca in the XIIIth and XIVth centuries. These
cartographers never lost contact with the Jewish communities of
Southern Morocco, of the Saharian oasis and the Sudan. Their
works, unlike those of the Arabic writers, were not of political or
religious inspiration: they were maps and guide-books for the use
of caravans and merchants. (5) Jaffuda and Abraham Cresques
(d.1387) were among the most famous Majorcan cartographers.
The latter was given by the Infant of Aragon the title of Magister
Mappamundarum et Buxolarum, or master of maps and compasses.
Later, another member of the Cresques family was baptized and
assumed the name of Gabriel Vallsecha. In 1439, he designed the
famous planisphere that came into the possession of Amerigo
Vespucci, and which now belongs to the Institute of Catalan Studies
in Barcelona. (6)
The trend of discoveries that led to the new world and to
the reconnoitering of the African coasts started from Portugal.
The impulse was given by the princes of the Aviz dynasty, above
all by the Infant Dom Enrique, surnamed the Navigator.
During the whole of the XVth century, year after year, the
world unfolded its mysteries in the wake of Portuguese vessels.
Madeira was discovered in 1419, the Azores in 1432, Cape
Bojador in 1434, Senegambia and Cape Verde in 1445; the coast
of Guinea and the isles of St. Thomas and Principe were first
sighted in 1470.
Spaniards and Flemings vied with the Portuguese in the pur-
suit of new lands. From 1466, a numerous Flemish colony was
established in the Azores. (7)
In 1479 a citizen of Tournai (Hainaut), Eustache de la Fosse,
embarked in Cadiz on the Spanish caravella Mondadina. The
Spanish kings were at war with Portugal. Et la nuict des Roys,
voici quatre navires portugaloises quy vindrent descharger leur
artillerie sur moy, par telle fachon qu'ilz nous subjuguerent .
je fus mis en la navire d'ung nommr DIOGO CAN, quy estoit un
bien rebelle fars ("and on Twelfth Night 1480," writes Eustache
de la Fosse, 'four Portuguese ships bombarded my ship and we
were forced to surrender. I was taken on board the ship of a cer-
tain Diogo Can, who was a ribald scamp.") (8)
Two years later, the same "ribald scamp," Diogo Can, dis-
covered the mouth of the Congo and sailed up the river 110 miles.
The following inscription engraved on the cliffs in Vivi (Belgian
Congo), was discovered in 1911: Aqui chegaram os navios do
Esclarecido Rey Dom Joao o secundo de Portugal (here were the
ships of the illustrious king of Portugal John II). At the mouth
of the Zaire or Rio Poderoso, as the river was named in those
days, Can planted the Padrao, a stone pillar surmounted by a
The evangilization of the Congo began, and the discovery
was publicized throughout the learned world of Europe. A map,
drawn between 1488 and 1492 and, according to La Ronciere, in-
spired by Christopher Columbus, indicates the fact that the cur-
rent of the Rio Poderoso is so powerful as to sweeten the waters
of the ocean for about five leagues from the shore. ('") (Ejus
magnitudine atque impetu dulcorare dicitur oppositum mnare quin-
For the following two centuries, the realm of the Congo and
its Christian rulers were a constant appeal to the religious zeal
and proselytism of European Catholics. In 1508, Enrique, son of
Afonso, king of the Congo, was sent to Lisbon to study theology.
In 1520 he was consecrated Bishop of Utica by Pope Leo X, the
first Negro to wear the mitre. The Holy See received ambassadors
from and sent legates to the Congo.
Describing the navigation of Vasco de Gama along the African
shores, CamoEns naturally alludes to the Christian kingdom:
Ali o mui grande Reino esta do Congo
(The greatest realm on these shores is that
of the Congo.)
The boundaries of this kingdom included only a small part of
the present province of Leopoldville, in the modern Belgian Congo.
The capital of the ancient realm, San Salvador, and most of its
territory, are today a part of Portuguese Angola.
It is a Portuguese monk, Fra Duarte Lopez, who is our in-
formant concerning this realm of the Congo. In the year 1578, he
travelled in Africa. A few years later in Rome, he met the Venetian
patrician Filippo Pigafetta, to whom he recounted the story of
his travels. This Pigafetta, who was in all probability a descendant
of the famous companion of Magellan, Antonio Pigafetta, had
taken part in the siege of Paris in 1561, the account of which he
published thirty years later. He also was present at the naval
battle of Lepanto, 1571. In Rome, 1591, he published the book of
Lopez' travels under the title of Relatione del Reame del Congo
et delle circonvicine contrade tratta dalli scritti et ragionamenti
di Odoardo Lopez Portoghese ("description of the kingdom of the
Congo and the neighboring countries, from the writings of Odoardo
Lopez, a Portuguese.") The book was widely read. French, English,
Dutch, German and Latin translations were soon printed. A spirit
of religious zeal pervades the whole work. In it, Lopez relates the
conversion of the ruler of the Congo realm. There are relatively
few descriptions of people and places. However, in a few pages,
Lopez tells us how the king gathered together in the capital the
name of which had been changed to San Salvador numbers of
hideous images of the false gods, which were burnt on a pyre.
Pigafetta writes that the "native's belief had been founded on the
idea that the more awesome a god was, the more he was to be
It is sad to think that Lopez was present at the destruction
of these statues without having the thought to describe them. But
all the same, we owe him a great debt of gratitude for having
discovered and described the Cataracts of the lower Congo, 292
years before Stanley. Moreover, the lakes of Equatorial Africa from
which the Nile springs are clearly indicated on the maps which
illustrate his book. If the XIXth century research scientists had
glanced at Pigafetta's book, they would have avoided the many
false hypotheses on this subject which have provoked endless
In Pigafetta's book, the word Congo designates a realm situ-
ated on the lower bank of the river, which he calls by the name
of Zaire. It is perhaps owing to his book, so widely read in his
time, that the word Congo later applied to the river has come
down to us.
Although Pigafetta most probably overrated the importance
of the evangelization of the Congo realm, it is a historical fact
that during the reign of Dom Sebastian, the last king of the house
of Aviz, a Christian king of the Congo went to Lisbon and was
most solemnly received by the Portuguese monarch. This fact made
a deep impression on the popular imagination. It became legendary
and, much later, may have been the origin of the strange pageants
called the Congadas, that took place once a year in several Brazilian
cities, in the XVIIIth century.
During Carnival time, a "royal" procession of African slaves
paraded through the narrow streets of old Rio de Janeiro. A
King of the Congo, his consort and heir-apparent (the Makoko)
were elected, and in gorgeous array, crowned with gilt diadems,
went through the town in fine chariots. They were received by the
Viceroy and the Bishop in the public square, where they per-
formed a sort of mystery play. I am the King of the Congo, I love
to dance I am here, I come from Portugal; thus sang the king
for a day, jigging up and down, followed by his wife and son.
Suddenly, a Cabocle (half-breed Indian) approached the Mak-
oko and clubbed him on the head. The young African was felled
to the ground and lay as if dead. Sounds of lamentation resounded
in the air. The entire royal procession improvised a threnody,
mourning the prince and praising his virtues. Then the sorcerers
of each tribe appeared on the scene, garbed in their ritual ap-
parel. The colored people of Brazil had not forgotten their origin.
From the banks of the great African rivers, they had brought with
them their masks, their spears and their matted shields. After
magic incantations and passes, the Makoko came to himself,
opened his eyes, sprang up and broke into a wild dance in which
the king, queen and all the spectators joined. The muffled sound
of the tom-tom was heard. Songs were replaced by the howling
of the crowd. Lascivious rhythms carried away the captive people,
celebrating the resurrection of a flat-nosed, dark-skinned Adonis.
The slaves went on dancing the whole night through, forgetful of
their endless sufferings. (1)
In 1687, a folio volume of exhaustive information on "the
three realms of the Congo, Matamba and Angola" was published in
Bologna. It was the work of a Franciscan friar, Giovanni Antonio
Cavazzi, who for many years had been the delegate of the Holy
See in the Portuguese possessions of Western Africa, which he
called Etiopia Inferiore Occidentale. In these abundantly illus-
trated 900 pages, Cavazzi minutely analyzes the fauna and flora
of the country, giving a picturesque description of such curiosities
as the lamentin (il pescedonna, the woman-fish), the pineapple and
the yam (batata). He shows a real understanding of the social and
political organizations of the Negro realms, and seems very in-
dignant about the heathen rites, the magic superstitions and the
worship of idols. His description of music and dances is extremely
accurate. All the musical instruments mentioned by him are still
to be found in the Congo. (12)
It is interesting to follow in the books of Pigafetta and Cavazzi
the historical vicissitudes of the African kingdoms. Pigafetta de-
scribes in detail the invasion of the Yagas (1568), identified with
the present Bayaka tribe. And a great part of Cavazzi's book re-
lates the political wisdom of Djinga Bandi, the Matamba female
ruler whom the Italian writer calls "la Regina Ginga." For more
than forty years, Ginga, baptized as Anna de Souza, endeavored to
play the European invaders one against the other. Spaniards,
Portuguese and Dutch sought her alliance.
It was from Angola and the Congo that the New World was
to derive its greatest source of slaves. And the expedition of fifteen
ships privately organized in Rio de Janeiro, in 1647, by Salvador
Correia for the reconquest of Angola, can be considered as one
of the earliest political interventions of the New World in the
affairs of the old.
Portuguese domination, founded on the dire necessities of
the slave trade, persisted in Angola. But the Christian kingdom of
the Congo was doomed in the beginning of the XVIIIth century,
the last European visitors being Recollets, Franciscans from Ath
(Belgium), as late as 1712. Then, for one hundred and sixty
years, oblivion and barbarism fell once more on that part of
Long before the days of colonization by European powers,
Africa's political structures, after a period of relative splendor,
weakened and were practically destroyed. It is true that in Africa
the white man found fierce foes, such as the Ashantis, the Zulus,
the Herreros, Overami of Benin, Samory, Behanzin of Dahomey,
the Mahdi, etc. Many of them were not the exponents of a stable
political organization, but merely an expression of spontaneous
resistance effected in desperate uprisings against the invaders.
Overami or Behanzin, on the other hand, were but the figure-
heads of states in full decadence, the shadows of what they had
been several centuries before the invasion.
Eight out of ten objects we admire in African artistic pro-
duction were created at least a hundred or even three or four
hundred years before European penetration. For some obscure,
internal cause, Negro art in. the XVIIIth century was already fall-
ing into decline. (13)
Great as were the errors of the European colonizers in Africa,
they must be absolved from one great accusation: that of having
destroyed the creativeness of the Negro.
The opinion of this writer is that artistic production decayed
at the same time as the deep religious feeling that had animated
the artist disappeared. A more sceptical approach to the animistic
belief of yore, that inspired the carving of ancestor-statues and
ritual masks, provoked the decadence of plastic arts in Africa. From
this time on, artistic production was limited to decorative and
utilitarian purposes. In this sphere it still produces beautiful
things. And European administration, especially in Belgian anc
French colonial territory, both encourages and stimulates the activi-
ties of the so-called arts indigenes.
The decadence of great African art cannot be refuted. It is
comparable mutatis mutandis to the fate of religious art in
Europe, where for more than two hundred years we have not
seen an artistic creation inspired by faith that can compare to a
medieval cathedral or a masterpiece by Giotto, van der Weyden
Thus, the decadence of African art had little or nothing to
do with European penetration, and excellent art critics, such as
Clive Bell, have struck a false chord when they dramatize the
story of "colonial soldiers, enhancing their prestige by pointing
out to stay-at-home cousins the relics of a civilization they helped
to destroy." (14)
Let us illustrate this fact by examples borrowed from two
men who greatly contributed to the discovery and the preserva-
tion of Negro art.
"In 1906," writes Leo Frobenius, "I visited the Kasai-Sankuru
region in the Belgian Congo. In some villages, the main streets
were lined on both sides with palm trees. Each hut was adorned
in a different style, a clever, delightful mingling of wood carving
and matting. The men carried chiseled weapons in bronze and
brass. They were clad in multi-colored stuffs of silk and fibre. Each
object, pipe, spoon or bowl was a work of art, comparable in its
perfect beauty to the creations of the romanesque period in Europe.
I have never heard of any Northern people who could rival these
primitive folk in their dignity, exquisite politeness and grace." (15)
Emil Torday, visiting the same region six or seven years later
writes: As we came in sight of Misumba, about twenty miles south
of the lower Sankuru, it seemed to me that I had entered a new
world. It was the most un-African place one could imagine. Step
ping out of a lovely grove of palm trees we faced a long street
at least thirty feet wide, as straight as an arrow. It was bordered
by oblong huts, each standing alone at an equal distance from
its neighbors; they were all of the same shape and differed only
in their walls, which were made of matwork ornamented with
beautiful designs in black. Their conventional patterns varied
from house to house Though the day was still hot, the
village was as busy as a hive. Everybody was working, the looms
of weavers were throbbing, the hammers of smiths clanging; in the
middle of the street, where was a shed, men were carving, making
mats or baskets and in front of their houses, women were engaged
in embroidery. Even the children were bent on some task, some
working the smith's bellow, others combing the raffia for the
weavers or making themselves generally useful. The whole place
was a picture of peaceful activity." (16)
At the time Emil Torday visited this village, Belgian ad-
ministration had, for six years past, superseded the Congo Free
State. And the pastoral way of living, favorable to the preserva-
tion of popular craftsmanship, had not been disturbed.
In Africa, as in Europe or the Americas, industrialization,
bringing a higher standard'of living, may have fatal consequences
for local traditional art. The radio and the movies may be of still
greater danger to the survival of the arts indigknes than were the
weapons of the white Conquistador.
During the last years, a serious attempt has been made by
ecclesiastical authorities in the Congo to direct the trends of the
arts indigenes towards Christian religious art. The decoration of
the churches and the carving of sacred images are now mostly ex-
ecuted by natives, following their antique patterns. Only members
of the church can fully appreciate the result of this activity. The
Apostolic Delegate in the Congo, Mons. G. Dellepiane, has given
his strongest encouragement to this initiative. In June 1936, the
first exhibition of Congolese religious art was held in Leopoldville.
Full achievement will only be measured after one or two gen-
erations of artists have shown us what they can do. Meanwhile,
we can agree with the wishful thinking of a French writer, M.
Henri Menjaud: "If Negro art is destined to perish with the sup-
erstition that inspired it and that our civilization is forced to
destroy, Christian faith can bring it to life again." (17)
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. This was
Moses' commandment to his people, as they fled from the land of
Egypt, this African land where the worship of graven images
More than Europe and Asia, even more than the pre-
Columbian Americas, Africa is traditionally a maker of graven
images. To peoples to whom the art of writing was as yet un-
known, form was the only means of preserving human thought
beyond the limit of man's memory. And form became dogma,
history, tradition. It would be an error however, to imagine that
every figure in Negro art is a substitute for a written document.
It has often been said that Negro art was an expression
of religion. But the relationship between the African worshipper
and the image is very different from the attitude of the heathen
in the presence of his visible god. What we commonly call an idol
has never existed in Africa. What an African statue or mask repre-
sents is never a god.
The theogony of most of the Bantu tribes recognizes a sole
God who ordains the universe. He created the genii, heroic beings
whose mission it was to model the visible world. This Master of
the universe, indifferent to the fate of his own creation, is moved
neither by prayer nor by offerings. No Negro ever thought of im-
prisoning his aloof and far-off divinity in any form or image. (')
The genii, on the contrary, who unlike the Creator were
animated by the spirit of evil and good, could be and were pro-
Closer still to human beings are the dead, whose dynamic
spirit keeps its personality after death. The living are surrounded
by the active spirits of the dead, their kindred, their ancestors,
their chiefs and both the friends and foes of the tribe. The goal
of ethic life is to strengthen the bonds of solidarity between the
living and the dead. It is thus that the ceremonial which surrounds
entry into the virile age (at which period the rites of circum-
cision are performed) marks the crucial moment when indissoluble
ties are established between the coming generation and their fore-
These rites are still surrounded with the greatest secrecy. The
initiated are forbidden to reveal anything concerning the practices,
and their attitude towards all secret ceremonies is akin in spirit
to that of Romans and Greeks towards their Mysteries. It has
taken years of patient investigation to penetrate a part of the
The ceremonies of the entry into the virile age differ from
one tribe to another. But all these rites, as well as the spirit that
pervades them, spring more or less from the same source. The
initiation consists in segregation of the young men from the rest
of the community. In the BAKONGO tribe, the period of initia-
tion, the Longo, takes from two to four months. (2) In the
BAPENDE tribe, when the time is chosen for the Nkanda (the
circumcision), the sorcerer, masked and garbed in a special gown
of fibre, enters the village where the children are presented by
their fathers. The women, informed of the arrival of the officiant,
have fled to the forest, whence they will not return during the
period of seclusion of the youths. The circumcised boys remain
in the quarters prepared for them until the wound is completely
healed. They can eat food prepared by men only. When they leave
the Mukanda (Mu Nkanda, the house of circumcision), a great
feast is held, with dances, songs and music in which the whole
community (men and women) participate. (3)
The Nhanda comprises a moral preparation, the young boys
being taught a code of ethics and the essentials of jungle etiquette
(between the age of five and eight, the boys have already received
a preparatory teaching on these matters, that goes on for nine
days). Now, before being circumcised, they must pass through
a series of ordeals meant to teach them to fear neither wild beasts
nor foes, fire, water nor ghosts. (4) In all these mysterious and
complicated exercises, the mask plays an essential part.
After a month of seclusion, when the youths undergo their
first ordeal, they are obliged to walk through a prepared ditch,
about ten feet deep, lined on both sides with niches, in which
they are confronted with awesome sights: men wearing leopard
skins and terrifying masks; others, waving red hot irons before
their eyes. All of a sudden, the candidate stumbles into an unseen
pool. Three series of such ordeals take place during the Nhanda
All these ceremonies correspond, according to Maes (5), to a
belief in the incarnation of a spirit, of a vital power in the youth
at the time of virility. To express this incarnation of a new spirit
of life, the child is taken away from his family during the period
of circumcision. He disappears from his natural surroundings. The
candidate for initiation paints his skin with a ,thick layer of
Mpembe, a sort of white clay. Among the BAKUBA, the candidates
wear a comb-mask, stuck upside-down in the hair. It is made of
copper or wood, is semi-transparent and is probably derived from
the masks of other tribes. During the Nkanda, the newly circum-
cised youths reject their childish names, assuming new ones on
their return to the village.
In many cases, writes Maes (6), we have found that the mask
was but a part of the full dress used during the ceremonies and
ordeals of the circumcision by the officiant or by the candidates.
These masks assume most varied aspects according to their
antiquity or to the tradition of the single tribes. We know, for
instance, that all specimens adorned with cauries (a tiny shell,
Cyprea Moneta) are of relatively recent fabrication, the caury,
that served as a medium of exchange, not having been used in
regions remote from the coast, such as the Kasai-Sankuru, before
the second half of the XIXth century.
Other masks take the form of the stylized head of a jungle
animal: leopard, buffalo, elephant or gnu (a kind of huge
A curious specimen is the mask called Bombo. It was used in
ancient days by the BAKUBA. It is a huge helmet shaped like a
human head; the nose is very big, the chin is lengthened by an
appendix representing a beard, the eyes are small but the most
characteristic feature of this mask is the enormous, bulging fore-
head. The ethnologists consider the Bombo as "negrillomorphic,"
that is to say, the stylization of the Negrillo's head. Today,
Pygmies are only to be found in the Equatorial Forest. Two
hundred years ago, they were still heard of near the West coast. (7)
The land, writes George Hardy (s), was considered to be the
inalienable property of its first possessors, the Pygmies. In the
minds of the Bantu invaders, these aborigines had been changed
into earthly genii, somewhat comparable to the Germanic Niebel-
ungen. Hence the part played by the Bombo mask in the mysteries
of the initiation.
With the passing of centuries, the mask has, in certain cases.
lost its religious character, becoming a military accessory or even
a dance ornament. In fact, any attempt to classify the African
masks is vague and delusive. We can catalogue them only ac-
cording to their local origin. This has been done very accurately
by Joseph Maes (0). But a scientific classification of this kind
does not bring us closer to an aesthetic judgment, or to an artistic
Why are African masks especially those carved many cen-
tries ago in Gabun, the French Ivory Coast and the Belgian
Congo so impressive that they provoke in the onlooker an un-
forgettable emotion? In none of them do we find a desire to
portray the human being, dead or alive. They are not distorted
portraits, neither are they pure abstraction. Each of them bears
a resemblance to a human or animal type, but the likeness is
merely an allusion, sometimes an illusion. In making a mask, the
sculptor cannot go very far from the natural size, for the mask
is generally intended to be worn. (10)
As Roger Fry puts it, "there is no doubt that the mask
creates in us the idea of a human spirit, though one the like of
which we have never seen." (11) The sense of overwhelming panic
that pervades us in the presence of these objects has little to do
with any information that has been handed down to us by the
ethnologists. What was the aim of the sculptor, with what sort
of feeling (terror, love, hatred, mourning or contemplation), did
he accomplish his work? All that we have been told by the in-
vestigations of these learned men concerning ancestor worship,
propitiation of the dead, rites of initiation, etc., cannot answer
these simple questions. The spirit that animated the primitive
sculptor has died away without betraying its secret. Neither can
we imagine the feeling that stirred the mask-bearer (was he him-
self afraid while trying to frighten his fellowmen, or did he con-
sider himself a religious intercessor, when he assumed a new aspect
in order to protect and safeguard his people?) Still greater is our
inability to realize the impression produced on the community
at the sudden appearance of this terrifying image.
Primus in orbe Deos fecit timor (Statius)
(Fear was first to create Gods in the world)
Although the African mask was by no means a fetish, neither
was it an image of a god; it was born in fear, and in fear it has
existed for centuries. Fear of the genii, fear of the forces of nature,
fear of the dead, of wild animals in jungle ambush, and of their
vengeance after they were killed by the hunter; fear of one's fellow-
man who kills, rapes and even devours his victims and, above
all: fear of the unknown, of all that precedes and follows the short
life of man. This essential terror confronts us in the same degree
as it did the primitives with the fundamental mystery of man-
kind: what are we, where do we come from and where are we going?
Some masks (especially those carved in a later period with
more or less skill by sceptical craftsmen), are little more to us
than picturesque puppets, interesting in their exoticism and strange-
ness. Many others reflect the metaphysical pangs of the human
race. Their mysterious shapes, carved by "savages" some three or
four centuries ago, retain in the eyes of the "civilized" onlooker all
their transcendental grandeur. Art of the past and present has no
higher goal than this direct appeal to life's mystery. For this very
reason, the beauty of the best African mask exists forever, sub
Eine fixierte Ekstase (the fixation of an ecstasy) in 1915,
the German art historian Carl Einstein (who in 1943 chose suicide
when trapped on the Spanish border by Gestapo agents), gave
this perfect definition of the African mask. (12) The incitement
towards ecstasy through fear, adoration or worship can be con-
sidered the original cause, not only of the existence of masks,
but of all Negro art. This opinion, however, is not accepted by
all. According to Father Aupiais, a learned French missionary,
three sources of African art can be traced: first, the use of metaphor
in the language, which would tend to assimilate the work of art
to a poem: second, a desire to record history; and third, the creation
of fictive personages by means of alteration.
Assuredly, the desire to record history has played a very great
part in the creation of sculptured objects among the tribes that
had a settled political organization. The tattooings that are so
general among the Bantus are, in fact, records of their ancestry,
their station in life and their affiliation to secret societies. These
tattooings are in reality cicatrizations of wounds. The design is cut
into the skin and the wounds treated so as to raise scarred ridges
above the surface.
The staves of chiefs carved minutely into designs that sym-
bolize the chief's genealogy and accomplishments are part of simi-
The most striking examples of these "history books in relief"
are the two carved thrones of the BATSHIOKO chiefs now at
Tervueren. Around the more recent of the two, scenes of pastoral
and tribal life unfold their pageantry: the domestication of the
buffalo, the cultivation of the manioc plant, the ceremonies of the
circumcision and finally the arrival of the white people in the jungle.
Historical recording may have been a source of inspiration to
the native artist, but it is less frequently met with than the ritual
and religious inspiration. The poetical metaphor is but a form
of these ritual practices. What we have said concerning the masks
justifies the spirit of alteration noted by Father Aupiais, but does
not necessarily imply the creation of fictive personages. We are
more inclined to agree with the opinion of the late Paul Guillaume,
who, as a pioneer among art dealers, was the first to draw our at-
tention to the beauty of African art. He wrote: "the partly
human face may well be the bridge which leads the observer
from his every-day attitude to the awed contemplation of the
The art of the sculptor has been and still is of an extreme
importance among the two ethnic groups, BAKUBA and BALUBA,
whose artistic production has the greatest significance. Joseph
Maes relates that the privilege of being a sculptor is not given to
all. In the Katanga, only members of the aristocracy have the right
to carve the objects and insignia of dignity. They alone may wear
on their shoulder the ornamental hatchet, the emblem of their
high station in life. The BALUBA sculptor must go through a
long and difficult apprenticeship in the school of a reputed master
ere he can attain his goal. To be admitted to this school, the
candidate must show a serious disposition for carving and prove
a particular skill. (14)
According to Father Colle, each BALUBA village of five
hundred inhabitants possesses at least one or two sculptors who carve
wood and ivory. The art tradition of the BALUBA is similar to
that practised by BAKETE and BENA LULUA sculptors. (15)
It would be an error to imagine these sculptors working in the
fashion of European or American artists. Their craft is not con-
fined to the making of statues or masks solely. They belong to a
culture where things can be superlatively beautiful and utilitarian
at the same time. (16) Every utensil is material for decoration: (17)
cups and goblets carved in the shape of human heads or orna-
mented with geometrical patterns; chief-staves and chairs adorned
with historical scenes; headrests and stools supported by sculptured
figures; make-up boxes and spoons, bobbins; musical instruments,
drums and tom-toms that were used in the jungle to transmit news
from village to village by a process very similar to the Morse code.
These are some of the objects made by the Negro artisans. Be-
sides these, there are amulets and talismans chiseled in wood or
ivory, and minor objects used in magic practises; some of these,
employed by the witch doctor to detect the seat of a disease, are
shaped like animals and skillfully carved. Perhaps we should also
consider the so-called "nailed-fetishes." They are found in the
region of the lower Congo. But they are generally of a very poor
quality and from a purely aesthetic point of view have little
The reader might ask how we can reconcile the existence of
such objects with the statement that "what we commonly call a
fetish does not exist in Africa." The answer is very simple: these
things are either medical instruments or else have some other im-
mediate practical function (protection of the crops, removal of
evil influences, etc.). Even the "nailed-fetish" is not considered
as a god nor worshipped as such.
Negro art has not been produced in the same abundance in all
regions of the Belgian Congo. It was largely the tribes in the
southern part of the Colony who created the beautiful works that
have come down to us.
Mr. Robert Goldwater divides the artistic production of the
Congo into three zones:
1 Lower Congo (CABINDA, MAYUMBE, BAKONGO,
2 Kasai-Sankuru (BAYAKA, BUSHONGO, BENA-
LULUA, BAPENDE, WESTERN BALUBA)
3 Eastern Region (EASTERN BALUBA, WARUA,
This classification appears to be logical, and we shall also quote
Mr. Goldwater's remark that "continual movements of peoples
make the determination of influences and origins difficult as does
the uncertainty of provenance of objects." (is)
However, the Danish writer Carl Kjersmeier, in the third of
his four volumes consecrated to the "Centers of Style" of African
Negro sculptures (Paris 1934-38), prefers to follow the order of
administrative divisions and enumerates the different tribes ac-
cording to their situation in the present provinces of the Belgian
Congo. In his outstanding work Plastiek van Kongo (Antwerp
1946), which reached us as this present booklet was going to
press, M. Frans Olbrechts has named four different artistic regions:
Lower Congo, Bakuba, Baluba and the northern part of the col-
ony divided in North-west and North-east regions.
At any rate, it is obvious that the rich emotional material
of the BALUBA ethnic group, like that of the highly developed
and refined creations of the BUSHONGO (BAKUBA), should be
separated from every other artistic production of the Congo.
Glory is capricious towards nations as well as towards indivi-
duals. Among the diverse cultures that blossomed through the ages
in tropical Africa, the BUSHONGO culture alone has had the
privilege of keeping its own records and transmitting them almost
intact to modern research.
Both oral tradition and chance played a part in the rescue
of these records. For many centuries, a high dignitary of the
BUSHONGO court, the Moaridi, has been an official historian, a
kind of living handbook, who preserved in his prodigious memory
the history of the hundred and twenty Nyimis, the political and
religious chiefs of the nation. But all the skill of the Moaridis and
their disciples was not enough to bring us the account of their
history. Chance, in this case, was incarnated in a man, Emil
Torday (1875-1931), a Hungarian ethnologist who spent several
years in the region of the Sankuru-Kasai basin, won the friend-
ship of the natives, learned their language and discovered the
hidden marvels of their art. What Garcilaso de la Vega did for
the Inca civilization in the XVIth century, Torday renewed in
the beginning of the XXth century for the BUSHONGO culture.
He had been sent to Africa to discover and bring back objects
of interest to the British Museum. This he performed with the
greatest success. Not only did he find the most splendid artistic
production of Central Africa, but he wrote, in collaboration with
a British Museum ethnologist, T. A. Joyce, an exhaustive ethno-
logical study describing the people he had lived with for years. (19)
Moreover, Emil Torday left us a charming book, containing his
personal recollections, recounting the story of his discoveries and
telling how he persuaded the native king and his council to
give up some of their most precious sculptures to the British
Nowadays, the BUSHONGO are called BAKUBA by the sur-
rounding tribes. Travellers, tourists and art students generally use
the same appellation, BAKUBA.
In Mushenge, the present capital, situated in the Sankuru-
Kasai region, lives the Nyimi, the sovereign of divine origin, sur-
rounded by a crowd of officials and ministers whose functions are
as strictly ritualized as were those of the Byzantine court. One of
them is the Moaridi, whom we have already mentioned; another
is the Nyibina, the head of the sculptors of graven images, who
occupies an exalted position at court.
The history of the BUSHONGO nation is most fascinating.
After relating the origin of the world and creation, achieved by
a unique God, the narrator proceeds to recount the deeds and
records of his people: The BUSHONGO came from the shores
of a great sea (probably Lake Tchad). (A) Before they could settle
on their present land, they had to cross four large rivers (the
Ubangui, the Congo, the Bassiri and the Lukenye). (21)
Each reign is described with its characteristic events. Under
the 98th Nyimi, a total eclipse of the sun is recorded. This enabled
Torday to fix'a land-mark in BUSHONGO history. A total eclipse,
visible in that part of the world, had been recorded by European
observatories on March 30, 1680. Torday's computation of dates
is entirely based on this event. At 1500 or thereabouts, he fixes the
reign of Miele, a famous blacksmith who introduced the use of
iron among his people. Shamba Bolongongo, the 93rd Nyimi
(circa 1600) is remembered as the greatest and wisest of all the
BUSHONGO rulers. To acquire wisdom, he wandered among
the neighboring tribes for many years, like the young Buddha.
When he assumed power, he introduced several political, social
and moral reforms that have been religiously kept by his suc-
cessors. He reorganized his court, giving an important place to
the representatives of the most honored crafts. He taught his sub-
jects the weaving of cloth from raffia fibre. He was a peaceful
sovereign, and he prohibited the use of the shongo ("the light-
ning"), the throwing-knife that is still in use among the tribes
of the Ubangui and Tchad regions. This throwing-knife had been
the traditional weapon of the BUSHONGO (the men with the
shongo). Shamba Bolongorigo also instituted the custom of carn-
ing a wooden image of the ruler. This Solomon of the jungle used
(A) The deductions of Tordav are no longer admitted by the new generation
of ethnologists. According to them, the BAKUBA kingdom appears to
have been founded by BAKONGO conquerors that came from the North-
east. They subdued ethnic elements of disparate origin, whose influence
was deeply felt in their later development.
to say: Kill neither man, woman nor child. Are they not the
children of Chembe (God). and have they not the right to live?
Shamba likewise brought to his people some of the agreeable pas-
times that alleviate the tediousness of life: the use of tobacco and
the game of Lela, a sort of draughts, still very popular in most
Torday, after having gained the Nyimi's friendship, was ad-
mitted to the royal house, where he saw the statues of Shamba and
his successors. One of the most recent was the image of Mikope
M'bula, who had reigned in the beginning of the XIXth century;
in 1908, a daughter of this chief was still alive, a very old woman,
who told Torday how her father had abolished the law that pre-
vented kings and noblemen from marrying slave girls. Mikope
himself had married a slave and at the foot of his statue, a small
feminine figure represented the woman he had loved above every-
thing on earth. (22) Torday also tells us of the long series of
intrigues which took place between the Nyimi and the grandees
before they could make up their minds that the image of their
former rulers would have a more secure and more illustrious abode
in the British Museum than they had in the fragile shelters of
Not all the statues seen by Torday were taken from their
legitimate possessors for the enjoyment of white scholars and
:artists. Seven of them belong now to European museums. Three
of them, including the image of Shamba Bolongongo, are in the
British Museum; three more are in the Museum of the Belgian
'Congo, in Tervueren, and one in the National Museum of Copen-
hagen. Still another belongs to the family of the late Mr. Renkin,
first Belgian Minister of Colonies. The last one discovered is now
at Antwerp, in the Blondiau collection. (A)
Although these statues belong to very different periods, they
are similar both in attitude and stylization. The BAKUBA rulers
are seated on their haunches, with the emblem of their reign in
front of them (anvil, table of the Lela, etc.). On their bodies we
see belts of fibre and shoulder, arm and wrist bracelets of threaded
beads. The disproportion that we find between the upper and
lower parts of the body, characteristic of Negro statues, is still
(A) In his recent work Plastiek van Kongo, M. Frans Olbrechts has repro-
duced seventeen statues of BAKUBA rulers. The names of twelve of these
more striking in these exquisite works of art because of their
This curious angle of vision, which is so general, can be ex-
plained by the fact that the artist, when carving his subjects,
works seated on the ground, 'and therefore sees the log he is
carving with that particular aspect which modern painters of our
time call perspective descendante. These statues, being designed
to be placed directly on the soil and not on a socle, present them-
selves in the same manner to the spectator.
It is generally admitted that the statues of the BUSHONGO
kings represent the highest peak of Negro art. We find, especially
in the image of Shamba, harmonious synthesis between style and
reality, idealization and resemblance, expression and technique.
These statues are of rather small dimensions. The biggest is
slightly less than three feet high. However they are not mere por-
traits; neither are they statuettes of a personal nature like so many
other Negro works, equivalent to the Roman lares. They are
veritable monuments, invested with a civil and lay significance. We
may say that they are official portraits, tending to inspire civic
feelings in the onlooker and to increase the glory of the rulers.
For all these reasons, and despite the extraordinary skill of
the carvers and the material perfection attained, these famous
statues of the BUSHONGO kings are not the most striking ex-
amples of Negro art. Their inspiration derives from hero-worship,
a feeling we know all too well in European art, and the
fact that their creators were also courtiers, officially appointed
sculptors, heirs and depositaries of a tradition handed down
through hundreds of years, invests them with an unavoidable
Academism in Negro art? The expression may seem strange.
But it also corresponds to a strange reality. As Torday puts it:
"The BUSHONGO form a wedge driven into a solid mass of
people who by whatever name they may be called, belong to
the Luba family." (23) Now, if we compare any production of
BAKUBA art to a similar creation of the BALUBA or any other
tribe of the Belgian Congo, we can easily establish, on a purely
aesthetic ground, some essential differences in the spirit that per-
vades these works. The statues of the BUSHONGO kings repre-
sent the achievements of a delicate technique. Only a well-
established artistic tradition could produce these masterpieces. The
men who created them were professional artists, in the European
sense of the word. This appears also when we examine the other
BAKUBA statues, their decorative production (bowls, carved boxes,
instruments of magic therapeutics, drums, woven materials), and
also their masks. All expressionism is banned from BAKUBA art.
An exquisite sense of style and decorative art inspired the
linear patterns transported from the woven tapestries of raffia
fibre to the carved surface of goblets and boxes. These patterns,
writes Paul Guillaume, (24) highly conventional and geometrical,
are handed down through the generations and designated by par-
ticular names. BUSHONGO children are taught at an early age
to make them with thumb and finger in the sand. Some of them
take their shape from animals, others from basketwork, showing
the plaiting of straw, over and under. Other elements borrowed
from the vegetable, animal or astronomical world are also fre-
quently employed by the BAKUBA carvers. The moon and the
sun, the palm-leaf, the snake, the antelope, the leopard and the
crocodile are represented in a more or less stylized form.
The so-called head-cups are another remarkable feature of
BAKUBA art. Whatever may have been the symbolic significance
of these strange wooden goblets in form of a human head, they
constitute a characteristic achievement of the BAKUBA carvers.
A great variety of style is to be found in the rendering of the
human face. Sometimes, we are confronted with a mysterious,
hieratic, almost superhuman expression, while in other examples,
the features are so vivid and realistic as to suggest that the in-
tention of the sculptor was to create a real portrait of a given
A detail, often reproduced on drums and goblets, is the human
hand. Joseph Maes has given an interesting interpretation of this
symbol. (25) The BAKUBA warrior, before becoming a member of
the caste of Yolo, had to show his courage and valor by killing
an enemy of the tribe. To prove his exploit, he had to present
to the council of this high military clan the left hand of the
doomed enemy, which was solemnly burned on a pyre during the
ceremony of admission. It may be that the carver commemorated
this event by reproducing the cut-off hand on an object which was
awarded on this occasion to the new Yolo.
This emblem of blood and murder is exceptional in the
decorative art of the BAKUBA. As a matter of fact, all scholars
agree in praising the peaceful and intimate character of BUSH-
ONGO art, its natural grace and innate style. Even in their
masks, the BAKUBA artists strove to avoid the awesome and
fearful impression produced by so many other African masks. We
also know that their masks were not or in any case, are no
longer exclusively reserved for ritualistic ceremonies. Some are
worn by itinerant clowns, some by dancers. Joseph laes observes
that the BAKUBA masks have probably lost their ancient meaning
- the inevitable consequence of the decadence of ancestral cus-
toms. He adds that such "decay of masks," such an evolution in
the mask's role and significance are to be found only among the
BAKUBA. (2G) This confirms what BAKUBA art has taught us
of its aesthetic character, its highly developed sense of decorative
splendor and also its tepid approach to the things of religion and
The Nyimi's prime minister once implored Torday to use his
influence with the king in persuading him to re-establish the rites
of initiation. On another occasion, the same dignitary complained
that the ancient language which was formerly understood and
spoken by the BUSHONGO aristocracy had fallen into disuse.
Alluding to the difficult political situation of the Xyimi and his
government, the prime minister informed Torday that the disaster
he dreaded was not the collapse of his country but the
destruction of its spiritual world, which, in his eyes, was the only
thing that mattered. (27)
This demonstrates that the BAKUBA culture, the most de-
veloped and refined in Central Africa, was losing its original at-
tachment to tradition and to faith long before the days of Euro-
pean penetration. In BAKUBA art, more national than religious,
more aristocratic than popular, not a free art, but one attached
to imprescriptible canons, this state of things is accurately mir-
rored. Compared to the artistic production of less politically de-
veloped tribes, BAKUBA art appears, for all its splendor, frigid
and distant. Mr. Alain Locke finds in a BAKUBA head-cup
the quality of austerity and mystic restraint of early Buddhist
works. (28) As a matter of fact, the BAKUBA have carefully pre-
served their wonderful technique, and its academismm" is a solid
guarantee of its survival and perhaps even of a possible Renaissance.
Two events, which have taken place within sixty years of
each other, illuminate the astounding historical adventure of the
Torday, after explaining how the Nyimi generally choses his
successor among the sons of his sisters (matrilinear succession),
tells us that as soon as the king had passed away, the government
was, for the time being, in the hands of the late king's eldest
son, who acted as a Camerlengo. One of his principal duties was
to guard the royal treasures, and another, to choose the victims
to be immolated on his father's grave. Then followed a reign of
terror, a hunt for those who were to die. This lasted during the
three days the body remained exposed. When old Bope Mobinji
(in whose time, in 1884, Dr. Wolf came to the country's frontier)
died, his son had two thousand people killed in his honor, with-
out counting the wives and slaves buried with him very
probably an exaggeration. (29)
In his beautiful book, Congo, published in New York in
1945, with fine photos by Andr6 Cauvin, John Latouche has given
us the latest reports of the incumbent Nyimi's activity. The present
king owns many antique statues, masks and cloths, which have
been partially destroyed by the native habit of storing these objects
in huts, where they are at the mercy of termites, mold and weather.
Encouraged by the government, the king, after years of persuasion,
is now erecting a large brick museum in which to house his
treasures. He is being instructed in the art of preventing natural
hazards from still further impairing relics of such value. This
will be one of the first museums furnished and controlled by the
natives themselves, to be built in Africa. (30)
The BALUBA constitute an important ethnic group whose
separate tribes are to be found in vast regions in the South of the
Belgian Congo, from the Kasai-Sankuru valleys up to the shores
of Lake Tanganyika (the Urua or Warua being but a geo-
graphical denomination of diverse tribes under BALUBA influ-
ence, as those which Mr. Verhulpen, in his work on BALUBA
culture, calls Balubaisis). The history of this culture is little
known, although the artistic production of the BALUBA is one
of the most important of the African continent. But little by
little, the material facts of BALUBA history are revealed to the
patient investigators. Mir. Verhulpen (31) recounts the successive
rise and decline of two BALUBA empires, the first founded in
the region of the Lomami by Kongolo, a conqueror of BASONGE
origin who, after extending and increasing his possessions, had the
miserable ending that befalls black as well as white conquerors.
This took place in the beginning of the XVIth century.
The dynasty of Mbili Kiluhe (Kongolo's father) continued
to reign over the second BALUBA empire, which extended its
frontiers from the Tanganyika and Moero lakes to the upper
course of the Lualaba (Congo) and the Lomami.
His patient researches, pursued in the encampments where he
lead the elders to speak of their ancestors, permitted Verhulpen
to establish a chronological list of the BALUBA rulers. He also
made comparative lists of the chiefs of the BALUBA dynasty with
the dynasty of the Christian kings of the Congo, (A) and with the
much talked of and little-known dynasties of the LUNDA king-
doms. That is to say, little-known to English, French or German
speaking peoples, but not strangers to the Portuguese. These in-
trepid pioneers have never ceased their penetration of the un-
known continent, from their Angola bases on the African coast,
striving to connect their Indian Ocean possessions with those on
Both explorers and merchants proceeded symmetrically one
could say to the famous Bandeirantes, the Brazilian pioneers
who, from Santos and Sao Paulo penetrated the tropical jungle, the
Pereira, Lacerda, the Pombeiros or native-traffickers, Monteiro
and Gamitto, Dias de Carvalho, between 1798 and 1880, organized
several expeditions, all of which crossed through the LUNDA
kingdoms. In the description they give of the court of the
Cazembe, the ruler of a kingdom which was to a certain extent
a vassal of the LUNDA empire, Monteiro and Gamitto relate
that they were received, in November 1831, by the Cazembe,
seated on a throne placed between two parallel rows of half-length
figures of human beings with horned heads. Another smaller
image was placed in a wicker basket at the chief's feet. (32)
But the real seat of the LUNDA state was the residence of
the Muata-Yanvo, whose dynasty, allied to the BALUBA rulers,
(A) He gives us a list of about thirty successive monarchs bearing Portuguese
names such as Joao, Alvaro or Antonio, that reigned in San Salvador from
1491 to 1710.
began to expand in the beginning of the XVIIth century (the
first Muata-Yanvo being a contemporary of Shamba Bolongongo,
the wise BUSHONGO sovereign).
The Portuguese from Angola were in frequent contact with
the Muata-Yanvo, as they were with the Nyimi of Mushenge.
In Mr. Verhulpen's learned work, we see coordinated for the
first time the scattered historical developments of Central African
nations. Thus, year after year, the clouds are lifted, and we have a
glimpse of the Africa Tenebrosa of yore.
It is highly regrettable, however, that Mr. Verhulpen, who
describes so minutely the memories and customs of the BALUBA,
has omitted any mention of visible objects. (33) And yet what a
profusion of these objects there were! Statues and masks, carved
implements and goblets, and the famous stools supported by human
figures! These works do not attain the material perfection that
enchants us in BAKUBA art. The BALUBA craft is more rudi-
mentary and less ornamental. It has a kind of stylistic soberness,
a moderation in the decorative details. But when it endeavors to
represent human beings, it attains a high emotional intensity, a
powerful and dramatic expression.
If we wish to make a comparison in terms familiar to every art
student, we should say that a BALUBA statue is to a BAKUBA
what a Tuscan fresco of the XIVth century is to a Florentine
painting of the late quattrocento.
One of the themes frequently treated by the BALUBA sculptor
is the so-called mendiante figure, a kneeling woman holding a
large bowl, as if she were begging for alms. The most famous of
the many statues of this kind, at the Tervueren Museum, is a
touching achievement of BALUBA art. The pathetic face of the
elderly woman is sculpted in plane surfaces and despite the skill-
ful stylization, it shows a deep feeling of humanity. The emaciated
limbs contribute to the general impression of suffering and despair.
The tragic figure, which had been wrongly considered as the
figure of a mourner, is, we know now, in reality a Kabila Ka Vilie,
a daughter of the spirit, a protective image of maternity. During
the last days before childbirth, the statue is placed on the thresh-
old, and the passers-by drop their obol in the bowl held by
the Kabila, in token of good wishes for both mother and child. (34)
In Yorubaland, hundreds of miles away from the country in-
habited by the BALUBA, similar statues are found, with exactly
the same artistic characteristics. Such simultaneous representations
in lands remote from each other, peopled by totally different
tribes, are a frequent and mysterious phenomenon of African
Another favorite theme of BALUBA sculpture is the crouch-
ing figure supporting a stool or a head-rest. These objects are
mostly found in the Urua of Warua region, between the Lualaba
(Congo) and Lake Tanganyika.
The stool is an emblem of power, used by the mighty on
solemn occasions. Some of these stools are conceived along purely
decorative lines, and bear no figurative element; an admirable
specimen of this type can be seen in the Brooklyn Museum.
The stool supported by one or more human figure is a very
characteristic feature of BALUBA art. The concept of chastisement,
the affirmation of might and power, were the primitive inspira-
tions of the subject, psychologically akin to that of the Greek
Caryatides. A similar intention can be traced in the sculptures of
Gothic cathedrals, where the figures supporting archways or en-
tablatures are mostly demons, dragons, grotesque and diabolical
faces, but never angels or holy creatures.
In Central African cultures, it is a kingly prerogative to sit on
a living throne, on the back of a slave. The Nyimi of the BUSH-
lustration in Caazzi's
.. ;.. ... .. '.
; Reception of Queen
'. Djinga Bandi by the
-. Portuguese governor
': ,,... ,. of Angola, from an il-
: 1 lustration in Cavazzi's
Si Istorica Descrizione
: '" '- dei Tre Regni del
... -. Congo. Bologna, 1687.
ONGO, in stately ceremonies, still places a foot on the body of a
prostrate servant. And Cavazzi, in the middle of the XVIIth century,
gave us a charming description of the visit that Queen Djinga
Bandi of Matamba paid to the Portuguese governor of Angola. (35)
During the audience, one of the Queen's maids in attendance,
squatting on the floor, le servi di sgabello (served as a stool) to
Her Majesty. In our opinion, it is more than probable that the
BALUBA stools supported by carved figures of men or women
are but an artistic elaboration of this symbolical gesture.
BALUBA art is animated by romantic transport. The masks
bear visible traces of such a spirit, which we find also in
carved ivory charms in the form of human faces. We may add that
although the BALUBA have occasionally created authentic master-
pieces (such as the famous Tervueren Kabila) their production is
rarely on such a high level. In the works of recent times, a deca-
dence is clearly noticeable. On the contrary, BAKUBA art, by reason
of its classical tendency and its traditional technique, retains today,
in its most usual applications, the pleasing qualities of an in-
genuous grace and an innate style.
The BALUBA are keen agriculturists. Torday also calls
them the most musical of all Negroes and wonderful story-tellers.
Many cargoes of BALUBA slaves were brought over to the New
World and their descendants are innumerable in the United
The BASONGE tribe that lives in the present Congolese
province of Lusambo, and is influenced by the BALUBA culture,
is renowned for the stylized masks called Kifwebe. The black
painted face of the mask is traced with parallel white lines, which
follow the contour of the features. (37)
The very finest specimen is to be found in Philadelphia, in the
Museum of the University of Pennsylvania. Its perfect stylization
of a noble and thoughtful human type calls to mind the best
achievements of archaic Greece. Here, we are no longer confronted
with the expressionistic and deeply emotional aspects of BALUBA
art. The Philadelphia BASONGE mask, pervaded with a sense of
majestic serenity, bears the traces of a supernatural vision. When
it was worn, it must certainly have given the spectator the im-
pression of a great spiritual power, materializing suddenly in order
to bring a particular message from the invisible world to the
throngs of the faithful.
The BENA-LULUA art is also connected with the BALUBA.
But this tribe, adjoining the BAKUBA, has developed a quaint,
eclectic sculpture, that bears many characteristics of baroquism.
The BENA-LULUA are temperamentally very different from the
BASONGE. To the BALUBA they owe a realistic sense of detail,
and a real gift for catching the likeness of a human being; they
owe to the BAKUBA their love of ornaments and geometric pat-
terns. Their statuettes of chiefs with pointed headdress and long
elaborate beard, of mother and child, with tattooed faces, the
woman's body and arms covered with tattooings and laden with
necklaces and bracelets, are among the strangest ever sculptured
The BAPENDE, who live in the province of Leopoldville,
have produced carved figures less powerful in style and expression
than those of the BAKUBA and BALUBA. Their masks, often
surmounted by horns, are of a triangular shape, sculpted in dark
wood, with small tubular eyes and protruding white teeth. During
the period following the circumcision, BAPENDE boys wear the
so-called comb-masks, that are fixed upside-down in their hair, so
as to cover the face. These masks have a mild and docile ex-
pression. The small ivory heads suspended on a string and worn
round the neck as protective amulets are delicately carved. Some
of them are intensely expressive. All these objects, however fine and
graceful they may be, decidedly belong to the arts miners. Their
chief merit lies in their decorative quality.
The BAKONGO are the direct descendants of the population
of the famed Realm of the Congo. San Salvador, the capital of
the Christian kings of the Congo from 1491, still exists as a
borough in Portuguese Angola. Now, the BAKONGO dwell on
the banks of the Congo, between Matadi and Leopoldville. Few
traces have been found of their former conversion to Christianity.
At the end of the XIXth century, the returning missionaries were
aghast to find that images of the Blessed Virgin and the Saints
had descended to the level of pagan genii and were worshipped
The BAKONGO are still attached to their commemorative
statues and nailed-fetishes, but nowadays, their average production
is rather poor and has little artistic value. However, the BAKONGO
attained a peak of perfection in their ancient naturalistic sculp-
tures. Their figures of mother and child are extremely moving. A
meditative and thoughtful feeling emanates from certain statues
of ancestors, especially those that represent men with chin in hand,
in the classical attitude of the Muse Clio, or Michelangelo's
Pensieroso. These statues and still more perhaps those carved in
ancient days in the adjoining region of the Maritime Congo -
are probably the only African works treated in a realistically
carnal manner. Those supernatural qualities and the spirituality
that strike us in nearly every Negro carving are absent from the
BAKONGO figures. They are definitely earth-bound and empha-
size the voluptuous and erotic complacency of their creators. It is
difficult to ascertain the reasons for this exception. The fact that
these people lived on the banks of the gigantic river, and in the
vicinity of the ocean, may have something to do with it. For
centuries, the BAKONGO have had contact with many a foreign
nation, both European and African. They have known men of
different races and creeds, and have probably developed that kind
of eclectic culture, together with a certain religious scepticism and
a propensity for sensuousness, that characterized on a higher
level of civilization the sea-born states of Tyre and Sidon in
Biblical days, or the Chan-Chan and Parakas republics in ancient
Peru, or even Venice during the later Middle Ages.
The best statues of the BAKONGO, and their neighbors in
Loango, are certainly very beautiful, although they are generally
underrated by both ethnologists and art critics.
In the province of Leopoldville, we also find the BATEKE,
whose principal abode is in French Equatorial Africa, in the dis-
trict of the Moyen Congo. In spite of little technical knowledge,
the BATEKE's commemorative figures are often deeply expressive.
In 1568, according to Pigafetta, the king of the Congo asked
Portugal's help against the Jaga invaders. As we already know,
the struggle went on for nearly two hundred years and the realm
of the Congo was finally overwhelmed. The conquerors settled
in the country and their descendants are known today as the
BAYAKA. For many years they jealously kept up their ancestral
customs, and were very reluctant to let the white people enter into
their secrets. However, on May 11, 1927, the Belgian Jesuit Father
Plancquaert was able to witness the Mukanda (initiation rite).
He has described the costumes of monkey-skin worn by the masked
dancers, who also had clusters of small bells tied to their legs.
Their masks were in the shape of huge funnels upside down, sur-
mounted by feather pennants. Of the two masked officiants, one
impersonated a male spirit, the other a female. It was this male
spirit, the Kakunga, who wore what was probably the largest mask
to be found in the Congo. It was about three feet high, with
bloated cheeks and distorted features, rendered more terrifying by
thick locks of raffia fibre, representing hair and beard. (3s)
During the parleys with other tribes, the BAYAKA envoys
held before their eyes a quaint, long-handled wooden mask, with
a caricatural face, inscribed in a painted circle and adorned with
a huge turned-up nose. Although it is difficult to find a correct
interpretation of this strange object, some say it aims to represent
the beak of the calao bird, shaped by nature in this curious way.
The BATSHIOKO, or CHOKWE, or VATCHIVOKWE, a
very prolific people scattered throughout the Southern region of
the Belgian Congo and Portuguese Angola, are mainly hunters
and warriors. For centuries they were part of the LUNDA empire
and endured the domination of its ruler, the Muata-Yanvo, who
was still one of Africa's mightiest potentates when Livingstone
visited him on April 3rd, 1854. Finally, the BATSHIOKO revolted
and in 1887 completely destroyed this long established power.
We have already described the carved thrones of the
BATSHIOKO chiefs. But these works of a recent period are de-
cidedly inferior to the ancient statues of this people, unforgettable
in their violent, snarling, animal-like attitudes. Their claw-like
hands and feet realistically sculptured, their gigantic headdress
shaped like twisted horns, call to mind the double row of statues
that horrified the Portuguese travellers, Monteiro and Gamitto,
during their visit to the court of the Cazembe, in the remote land
of Lake Moero, where LUNDA influence prevailed. (")
Even if the statues carved by the BATSHIOKO of today do
not reflect the artistic value of the past, their decorative art de-
lights us still: canes, spoons, baskets, and above all the high combs
with sculptured figures that bear a strange resemblance to the
Scythian golden objects found in Kertch (Crimea).
The masks of the BATSHIOKO, especially the Kalelwa, sur-
mounted by a huge single-horned coiffure, which is employed dur-
ing the rites of circumcision, are frightening. The features are
blotted out in a diabolical blur, and nothing remains but two
dilated and erratic eyes.
As we advance towards the Eastern and Northern parts ot
the Belgian Congo, we find little interest in the plastic arts among
the pastoral peoples of these regions. The Hamite tribes in the
Ruanda-Urundi territories have beautiful songs, dances and music,
but little or no sculpture.
In the province of Stanleyville, the MANGBETU are perhaps
the only tribe of the Congo to manufacture original pottery. Their
earthenware bowls in the form of heads with the particular high
coiffure of the tribe, show according to Mr. Kjersmeier, an Egyptian-
Sudanese influence. (40)
To preserve honey, which is an important part of their nour-
ishment, the MANGBETU make curious boxes out of the bark of
trees, adorned with graceful, decorative heads.
The masks of the WAREGA (province of Costermansville)
would be worthy of a lengthy study. They are used only by the
members of the Mwami secret society. They are generally carved
in ivory (elephants were formerly numerous in the region in-
habited by the WAREGA). An expression of serenity and calm is
reflected in the impassive features of these masks. The patina of
the ancient ivory renders these delicate masterpieces, a miracle of
craftsmanship and material perfection, still more beautiful. How-
ever, they are totally different from any other mask to be found in
the Belgian Congo, having nothing in common with the traditional
creative forms of Bantu Negro cultures. It was contemplation,
and not ecstasy, that inspired their creators.
"It is not the tribal characteristics of Negro art nor its strange-
ness that is interesting: it is its plastic qualities," writes James
Johnson Sweeney. (") In these plastic qualities lies the secret of
all Negro art: "the unfailing ability to conceive of style," as
Robert Goldwater puts it. It is probable that the impossibility
of fixing human thoughts in written words has developed these
astounding gifts for style in plastic expression. But it may be
also that these very gifts have kept the Negroes from inventing
a writing of their own. All the aspirations of their soul, all they
wished to remember from the past and the dead, all they feared
from the unknown world and from unaccountable events, all this
is faithfully mirrored in their plastic creation.
"Negro art is the most purely spiritual art we know of,"
wrote Roger Fry. "It aims at expressing one thing only, the vital
essence of man. To the Negro, plastic art is not a means of en-
joying the free exercise of the spirit as we do. For that he turns
to music and to dance. But he chooses from appearances certain
almost abstract plastic themes, and builds out of them a con-
sistent rhythmical system. By means which seem to escape our
comprehension, the miracle of an intense inner life is achieved." (42)
Negro art may be religious, social or familial in its essence.
It may be, as Georges Hardy thinks, more realistic and lifelike
among peoples that dwell in dense and obscure forests, while it
becomes more rigid, hieratic and motionless in regions of plains
and savannahs. (43) It may charm a critic of our days by the ex-
quisiteness of its quality: "Touch one of these African figures,"
writes Mr. Clive Bell, "and it will remind you of the rarest
Chinese porcelain." (44)
Be that as it may, Negro art is born from the two elementary
feelings that animate mankind: love and fear.
It has found a rich emotional source in the love of the de-
parted, in the ethnical communion which perpetuates the virtues
of the ancestors and in the bonds of the secret societies that unite
their members in a gelf-sacrificing friendship.
In the fear of the genii that symbolize the forces of nature,
in the fear of the magic powers that surround the frail existence
of man, woman and child in the depth of the jungle, Negro art
has developed into a metaphysical affirmation. It has given to the
panic-stricken peoples, by purely plastic means, the liberation of
ecstasy. Love, fear, ecstasy shall never be estranged from the heart
It is generally admitted that the discovery of Negro art and
its beauty is the find of the Fauve painters in Paris. In fact,
Maurice de Vlaminck in his boisterous book of memoirs, Tournant
Dangereux, tells us that on seeing two negro statues behind the
counter of a bistro, among the bottles of Picon and Vermouth, he
bought them. This took place around 1904. Mr. Goldwater, in
bringing this fact to our attention in his excellent book, Primitivism
in Modern Painting (1936), perpetuates this anecdote.
Assuredly, Maurice de Vlaminck, like Andre Derain, Henri
Matisse, and somewhat later, Braque and Picasso, were attracted
by Negro art. Matisse and Picasso were the first to collect these
objects whereas Vlaminck was drawn to these statues by their
strangeness and curiosity, rather than by their qualities as works
of art, as Mr. Goldwater recognizes. (l)
At that time, European ethnological museums (particularly
the Paris Trocadero), already possessed very fine collections of
African sculptures, some of them the very best quality.
During the following years, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire,
the art dealer Paul Guillaume and some early collectors, like M. de
Golubew, realized more clearly the aesthetic value of Negro achieve-
Those objects found by the Fauves in the most unexpected
places were, for the greater part, second rate.
On the other hand, we find few traces of the direct influence
of Negro sculptures in the Fauve canvases, except perhaps in those
of Derain. Curiously enough, with the rise of Cubism around 1910,
we see no evidence of any knowledge of the Cameroun masks and
statues, in such close unconscious relationship with the researches
of these artists. (2)
Why was it that these young painters attached such importance
to African art? This interest goes much deeper than the casual
find of a Parisian coterie.
It is certain that during the first years of the XXth century,
the conflict between collectivity and personality weighed heavily
on the artist. In this epoch, more than any other, art served as
a weapon of defense for the artist's individuality. Hence the "de-
fensive" character of so many works of art of those days: they are
refuges, shelters for both the creator and his followers. Modern
art in its entity has sprung from such a scission of the personality.
The impressionists, despite their continuous struggle against
the academic taste of the ruling classes, belonged decidedly to the
bourgeoisie, and their greatest masterpieces exalted the sensuous
pastimes and the lighthearted pleasures of the middle-class (the
bar of the Folies-Bergire, the picnic on the lawn, the rowers' lunch,
etc.). With the increasing pressure of collectivity into the artists'
field, the painters, in an effort to preserve their personality, sought
a refuge in the secret of their own art. Gone were the portrayal
of suburban mirth and innocent voluptuousness. Gauguin fled to
virgin islands of the South Seas; the aristocratic Toulouse-Lautrec
plunged deeply into the underworld; the solitary Odilon Redon
retired into a dreamland of books and flowers. C6zanne, father of
our century, in his shining solitude of Provence, opened wide the
doors of the future, through which were to pass both Fauves and
The new generation was to go still further, not in its with-
drawal from society or civilized life, but rather in the shielding of
Carl Einstein attributes to this psychological process the origin
of Cubism. (3) And we can ascribe to the same cause the at-
traction of European artists towards children's drawings, works by
a self-taught genius such as Henri Rousseau, and lastly towards
Negro and Oceanian art.
The direct influence of African statues and masks is felt in
the pictures Picasso painted between the years 1906 and 1909. The
most famous of these is Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, which hangs
today in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
It is not our intention to analyze or to explain the character
of this influence. We leave it to the reader to compare and to
draw his own conclusions concerning Picasso's Negro period and
the models that may have been his inspiration. This applies to
other modern artists who have been subjected to similar influences.
We find these artists everywhere: among painters and sculptors, in
Paris and in Germany, in Belgium and in Austria. In the Ecole
de Paris, Derain, Modigliani, Leger and Rouault are among the
most striking examples. And again Picasso, in whose stupendous
developments the features of BALUBA and Ivory Coast masks
pass like Ariadne's thread.
In Belgium, the first masks brought from the Congo, in the
early nineties, greatly impressed the foremost Belgian artist, James
Ensor. (4) In his still-lifes, where masks mingle with shells and
porcelain, he creates a grotesque synthesis which combines the ele-
ments of both Flemish carnival and Negro ceremonial masks.
In the works of the Flemish expressionists, Permeke, Frits van
den Berghe, Desmet and Tytgat, many resemblances with Negro
sculptors may be traced.
The German group of the Blaue Reiter (Kandinsky, Marc,
etc.), that flourished in Munich in 1912, felt greatly the influence
of primitivism of all kinds, including Negro art. But it is the
Swiss-born Paul Klee who was most inspired by Negro masks and
The sculptors, of course, were soon to become aware of the
rich material that was brought to them by Negro art. Lipschitz,
Henri Laurens, Zadkine and Modigliani, in his rare but splendid
sculptures, show us that they have understood the lesson of the
Ivory Coast, Gabun and Congo sculptors.
What is the precise nature of this influence? This is not easy
to answer. A determined influence, that is, a tendency to imitate
this or that type of Negro sculpture, is limited to very few cases:
Picasso's Negro period (1906-1909), and some of Klee's fantastic
personages or animals. But besides such direct and evident in-
fluence, many other traces of Negro craftsmanship can be found,
more or less assimilated and enshrouded within the technique of
modern painters and sculptors.
In the XXth century, Negro art has become a factor that can-
not be ignored any more than Romanesque sculpture or Byzantine
We will endeavor to enumerate some of the most striking
processes that the contemporary artists have borrowed from Negro
1) the treatment of the human face; the simplification of the
features, reduced to essential lines exaggerating the eyes,
and uniting eyelids and nose in one curved or broken
element. (Rouault, Leger, Permeke, Tytgat)
2) the construction of the face in which the nose is a volume
in itself, distinct from the rest of the composition, such
as we see in a famous Picasso portrait entitled: la femme
au nez en quart-de-brie.
3) the adoption of the perspective descendante of which we
have already spoken in connection with the appearance of
the human body as in many of Giorgio de'Chirico's seated
4) the use of purely decorative designs out of which a pow-
erfully realistic image emerges; this is the technique cur-
rently employed by Paul Klee; it is directly inspired by
the Kifwebe masks of the BASONGE.
5) finally, another source of inspiration is found in the tower-
ing ornate coiffures and headdresses of Negro masks,
(particularly the BAYAKA, BATSHIOKO and modem
BAKUBA specimens); we find a happy interpretation of
these towering masks in Frits van den Berghe's canvas
Un beau marriage.
All that precedes is a pure application of technique. Except
in the case of Paul Klee, the inner spirit that pervades Negro art
is absent from the modern paintings we have cited.
The upheaval that the advent of Surrealism created in the
art of our time has in reality brought the contemporary artist very
close to the Negro sculptor of yore.
The trends of our age aim at the restoration of magic values.
Disgusted with positivistic and evolutionistic explanations of
the world that ha"e led to huge social and national catastrophes,
deceived by a science, a wisdom, an art that were imprisoned by
the bonds of reason and were thus unable to attain a transcendental
reality, the artists have sought refuge in the irrational fields of the
subconscious, the pre-natal memories, the world of dreams, the
survivals of ancestral customs, the automatic and instinctive ac-
tivity of the spirit. In these same fields the primitive statues and
masks came to life. This is the cause of the conjunction between
the modern artists and the aboriginal craftsmen that still dwelt
a few centuries ago in the Equatorial Forest of Africa.
We must not forget that the masterpieces of African art be-
long to the past. However, the techniques acquired through a long
tradition have not been lost. In the field of decorative art, ex-
quisite and quaint objects are still produced.
Whether or not the African peoples will one day find their
way back to the creative grandeur of their forefathers, is shrouded
in the mysteries of the future.
The "burden of the white man" does not consist only in
bringing welfare, education and social tranquility to those, who,
sixty years ago, were still sacrificing thousands of human victims
to the spirits of their deceased rulers.
In the antique soul of the African races, the spiritual wealth
so deeply ingrained must blossom anew. Then, and then only,
will they retrace their steps towards creative ecstasy.
Centers of artistic production in Belgian Congo
BAKUBA KING MIKOPE MBULA (c. 1820) Belgian Congo Museum,
TERVUEREN-BRUSSELS. The small feminine figure at the foot of the
statue represents the slave that, contrary to established laws, Mikope
BAKUBA KING BOPE PELENGE British
Museum, LONDON. The emblem of his reign
(c. 1800) was the anvil and bellows. This statue
belongs to the oldest type, inspired by the image
of Shamba Bolongongo (c. 1620).
BAKUBA KING KWETE
PESHANGA (c. 1907) -
National Museum, COPEN-
HAGEN. The modern carver
has yielded to a naturalistic
BAKUBA HEADCUP American Museum of Natural History, NEW
YORK. Cups and goblets in the form of a human head are sometimes
executed in a conventional style which almost excludes any likeness
to a living being, as in the specimen shown above, and sometimes in a
dramatically realistic way, as illustrated by the goblet on the following
page (lower right).
BAKUBA CUP, JANUS CUP and HEADCUP Belgian Congo Museum,
TERVUEREN-BRUSSELS. The BAKUBA decorative patterns have been
established for many generations. Some are geometrically set in triangle
and lozenge mosaics. Others, such as the headdress represented on the
Janus cup, are an imitation of basketwork.
BOMBO MASK BAKUBA Belgian Congo Museum, TERVUEREN-
BRUSSELS. This mask, with its characteristic bulging forehead, is the
stylization of Pygmy heads.
BOMBO MASK BAKUBA Newark Museum, NEWARK, N. J.
A more elaborate and probably more recent version of the Bombo mask.
This specimen is adorned with white and colored beads, also with cauries.
BAKUBA MASK Belgian Congo Museum, TERVUEREN-BRUSSELS.
The geometrical pattern with triangles of alternate colors and the
decorative headdress contribute to the peaceful expression of this mask.
BAKUBA DRUM and SYMBOLIC HANDS Belgian Congo Museum,
TERVUEREN-BRUSSELS. Hands carved on goblets, drums and other
objects are supposed to be the emblem of the YOLO caste, a secret
military organization of the BAKUBA tribe.
BALUBA PROTECTIVE IMAGE OF MATERNITY, known as THE
BEGGARWOMAN Belgian Congo Museum, TERVUEREN-BRUS-
SELS. This beautiful achievement of Negro art has been identified,
many years after its discovery, as a protective image of maternity. It
possesses, together with a technical perfection rarely attained, a highly
emotional quality, and is pervaded with a tragic sense of human suffering.
Photo Ch. Leirens.
BALUBA PROTECTIVE IMAGE OF MATERNITY (full face view
of the preceding statuette). During the last days before childbirth, the
image is placed on the threshold and passers-by drop an obol in the
bowl, in token of good wishes for both mother and child.
BAPENDE MASK Belgian Congo
This horned mask shows macabre ex-
pressionism. The calculated distortion of
the features evokes an uncanny feeling.
BAKUBA MASK Belgian
Congo Museum, TERVUERN-
BRUSSELS. The very simplified
features are deprived of the
ecstatic apprehension found in
masks of other tribes. This is
a purely decorative object, cre-
ated for people who have lost
their faith in ancient rites.
BALUBA PROTECTIVE IMAGE OF MATERNITY University
Museum, PHILADELPHIA, Pa. Another specimen, also deeply moving,
of the Kabila Ka Vilie, the daughter of the Spirit who protects maternity.
BALUBA CARYATIDE SUPPORTING A STOOL Belgian Congo
Museum, TERVUEREN-BRUSSELS. This type of caryatide is generally
carved in an emotional style very akin to modern expressionism. The sug-
gestion has been made that it might impersonate a female ancestor of
the family, holding the throne reserved for the chief.
BALUBA CARYATIDE SUPPORTING A STOOL Belgian Congo
Museum, TERVUEREN-BRUSSELS. In this specimen, the accent is
placed on the rich pattern of tattooing, a reminder of the family's
-RITUAL MASK OF THE BASONGE (BALUBA) Coll. Andre
Derain, PARIS. Courtesy of Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Although of a model rarely found, this mask, perhaps a solar repre-
Derain, PARIS. Courtesy of Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Although of a model rarely found, this mask, perhaps a solar repre-
sentation, carries decorative elements reminiscent of BAKUBA technique.
KIFWEBE MASK OF THE BASONGE (BALUBA) University
Museum, PHILADELPHIA, Pa. The BASONGE tribe influenced by
BALUBA culture created this highly stylized type of mask. The above
specimen suggests feelings of artistic grandeur that evoke archaic and
even classical Greece.
KIFWEBE MASK OF THE BASONGE (BALUBA) University
Museum, PHILADELPHIA, Pa. This mask with its heavy caricatural
features could have served as inspiration for the modern painter Paul
Klee, in one of his ironical portraits.
BENA-LULUA WARRIOR, MOTHER AND CHILD Belgian Congo
Museum, TERVUEREN-BRUSSELS. The abundance of ornamental de-
tail and the fantasy of the tattooing confer a somewhat baroque char-
acter on the quaint statuettes of this tribe.
BAPENDE IVORY AMULETS Upper piece in Coll. C. G. Seligman,
OXFORD. Courtesy of Museum of Modern Art, New York. Lower pieces
in Belgian Congo Museum, TERVUEREN-BRUSSELS. These protective
amulets were suspended on a string and worn around the neck. Some
of them are very expressive.
BAPENDE IVORY AMULETS Coll. Adolphe Stoclet, BRUSSELS.
The BAPENDE are good ivory-carvers. These tiny personages seem
good-humored and kindly. They call to mind the Roman Lares.
BAKONGO ANCESTOR FIGURE Belgian Congo Museum,
TERVUEREN-BRUSSELS. This chin-in-hand attitude, which
calls to mind the antique Clio and Michelangelo's Pensieroso,
is typical of BAKONGO male statuettes.
BAKONGO KNEELING WOMAN Royal Museums of Art and History,
BRUSSELS. A spiritualized sensuousness is expressed in this beautiful
statuette, a masterpiece of BAKONGO art.
BAKONGO NAIL FETISH Brooklyn Museum, BROOKLYN, N. Y.
The so-called nail-fetishes (with a hole carved in the navel to receive
the magic substance) can hardly be called works of art. However, this
particular specimen reproduces with excellent craftsmanship the typical
features of BAKONGO statuettes.
BAKONGO MOTHER AND CHILD Belgian Congo Museum,
TERVUEREN-BRUSSELS. The elaborate geometrical pattern of the
tattooing, in contrast with the naturalistic expression of the features,
reveals the various influences felt by the BAKONGO, who for several
centuries had greater contact with the outside world than had other
KAKUNGA MASK BAYAKA Belgian Congo Museum, TERVUEREN-
BRUSSELS. This terrifying mask with bloated cheeks and beard of raffia
appears during the Mukanda (initiation rite).
%T-'- I -
HEAD OF BATON MARITIME CONGO University
Museum, PHILADELPHIA, Pa. An emblem of personal power.
The carved staves of chiefs found in many parts of the Congo
and Portuguese Angola are among the rare manifestations
of art independent of religion or rite.
BAYAKA MASK WITH HANDLE Coll. Paul Chadourne, PARIS.
Courtesy of Museum of Modern Art, New York. This strange mask, with
a huge turned-up nose, was used by the BAYAKA during parleys with
BAYAKA MASK AND HEAD-
DRESS Belgian Congo Mu-
seum, TERVUEREN BRUS-
SELS. This mask is very simi-
lar to those shown in the
photo below, taken during a
BAYAKA ceremony in 1947.
Photo van den Heuvel, Congopresse
BATSHIOKO CHAIR Buffalo Museum of Science, BUFFALO, N. Y.
In this ceremonial chair, the intimate story of a family seems to be
related. Men, women, children and animals take part in the "carved
legend." Photo C. E. Simmons.
BATSHIOKO CHAIR Belgian Congo Museum, TERVUEREN-
BRUSSELS. A carved history book, somewhat in the spirit of a XIIth
century cathedral porch. The scene on the lowest part of the chair
represents the arrival of white people in the jungle.
KALELWA COSTUME, MASK AND HEADDRESS BATSHIOKO -
Belgian Congo Museum, TERVUEREN-BRUSSELS. The Kalelwa mask
plays an important part in initiation rites. Nowadays, it is also worn by
BATSHIOKO TOBACCO MORTAR LID Belgian Congo
Museum, TERVUEREN-BRUSSELS. Even in such house-
hold objects, the BATSHIOKO remain faithful to their
striking traditional images of cruelty and violence.
BATSHIOKO COMB Belgian Congo Museum,
TERVUEREN-BRUSSELS. The fantastic elements
characteristic of early BATSHIOKO statuettes are
still recognizable in this purely decorative styliza-
BATSHIOKO CHAIR Belgian Congo Museum,
TERVUEREN-BRUSSELS. This ceremonial
chair, with its elaborate human figures, is typ-
ical of BATSHIOKO decorative art.
BATSHIOKO AND LUNDA STATUETTES Colonial Museum,
LISBON. With their snarling, animal-like attitudes, these statuettes
express the violent and tormented souls of a warrior tribe.
IVORY MASK OF THE MWAMI SECRET SOCIETY WAREGA -
Coll. Charles Ratton, PARIS. Courtesy of Museum of Modern Art. New
York. This is not a work from the Far East, but a WAREGA mask. The
ivory has acquired a dark brown patina that renders it very impressive.
r ,y i;
. .'.- A.'a
3&t ? A
jte "r^ b
IVORY MASK OF THE MWAMI SECRET SOCIETY WAREGA -
Coll. Louis Carre, PARIS. Courtesy of Museum of Modern Art, New
York. A masterpiece of craftsmanship. The expression of serenity and
nirvana that pervades the features is unique among Congolese masks.
E~r ~,. ri
WAREGA IVORY MASK Coll. Adolphe Stoclet, BRUSSELS.
The features of this mask call to mind the portraits of Modigliani.
BATEKE STATUETTE; MANGBETU BOX FOR HONEY -
Belgian Congo Museum, TERVUEREN-BRUSSELS. These two
objects come from different parts of the Congo. The BATEKE
statuette is a good example of the rather primitive technique
of this tribe, whereas the MANGBETU box is carved in the
graceful and refined conception of this ancient people.
1. Carter G. Woodson, The African Background Outlined. \Wa'lhington. D.C.
2. Robert J. Goldwater, Primitivism in Modern Painting. New York. 193,.
3. James Johnson Sweenev, African Negro Art. New York. 1935. p. 11.
4. Charles de la Ronciere, La Derouverte de '1.frique aun Moe\r-A4g. itl
M.Imoires de la Societl Rovale de (;Gographie d'EgTpte. \ol<. V. VI. XIll
5. Ibid I, p. 129.
6. Ibid 1, p. 123, p. 127.
7. Ibid II, p. 40-41.
8. Ibid II, p. 63-64.
9. Ibid II, p. 71.
10. Ibid II, p. 72.
11. Leon Kochnitzky, L'Art baroque amricain,. special number ft La Re:ais-
sance, Paris. January 1936.
12. Istorica decrizione de'Tre Regni del Congo. Matamba et Angola, situati
niell' Etiopia inferior ocridentale accuratamente crmopilata dal p. Gir-, .
Ant. Cavazzi da Montecarrolo, sarerdote capuccino. il quale vi fu prefetto,
Bologna, 1687, p. 166.
13. Clive Bell. Since Cezanne, London, 1922. p. 120.
14. Ibid, p. 113.
15. Leo Frobenius. Kulturgeschichte Afrikas, Zurich. 1933. p. 14-1i.
16. Emil Tordav. On the Trail of the Bushongo. Philadelphia. 1925. p. '11.
17. Henri Menjaud. Art indig,,ne et Liturgie, in I e Monde Colonial iilulot
No. 162. January 1. 1937.
1. Father Placide Tempels. La Philo.ophie Bantone. Elisabeth\ille. 194".
2. J. \an \\ing, N:o Longo ou les rites de la puberil rlhe: les BakonLo. in
Congo, Revue gen(ral e de la Colonie beige, ann. 1. tome 2. ann. 2. tome 1
3. Joseph Maes. Aniota-K ifw'ebe. Les masques des populations du (.ongo Belge
et le materiel des rites de la cirrcoinision, Antwerp. 1924. p. 19.
4. Torday. op. cit.. p. 189.
5. Maes. op. rit., p. 62-63.
6. Ibid, p. 8.
7. Torday, op. cit.. p. 57.
8. Georges Hard,. L'Art animiiste des Noirs d'Afrique. Paris 1927. passim.
9. Maes, op. cit., passim, p. 8-9.
10. Paul Guillaume and Thomas Munro. Primitive Negro sculpture. New York.
1926, p. 38.
11. Roger Fry. I.ast Iectures, New York, 1939. 78 (see chapter on \egro
A rt, passim) .
12. Carl Einstein. Negerplastik. Munich 1915. p. 26.
13. Guillaume and Munro. op. cit., p. 50.
14. Joseph Macs and H. Lavachery, L'Art A
Beaux-Aris, Brussels, 1930, p. 13.
15. R. P. Colle, Les Baluba Hemba, Brussels, 1913, passim.
16. Alain Lqcke, A Collection of Congo Art, in The Arts, vol. XI, no. 2, New
17. Guillaume and Munro. op. cit., p. 19.
18. Robert J. Goldwater, Prehistoric and Primitive Art, in Syllabus of lectures
given at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1936.
19. Emil Torday and T. A. Joyce, Notes ethnographiques sur les peuples
coiniunmient appelds Bakuba, ainsi que sur les peuplades apparentees -
les Bushongo, in Annales du Musde du Congo Beige, s6rie III, tome 2,
20. Torday, op. cit.
21. Ibid, p. 161-164.
22. Ibid, p. 149.
23. Ibid, p. 166.
24. Guillaume and Munro, op. cit., p. 37.
25. Maes and Lavachery. op. cit., p. 18.
26. Macs, op. cit., p. 21.
27. Torday, op. rit.. p. 119, 163, 185.
28. Locke, op. cit.
29. Torday, op. cit., p. 177.
30. John Latouche. Congo. New York. 1945, p. 41.
31. Edmond Verhulpen, Baluba et Balubalises (d Katanga, Antwerp, 1936,
32. Journney of M. Monteiro and Gamitto, in Lacerda's Journey to Cazembe in
1798 (translated by R. F. Burton) London, 1873, p. 254.
33. Vcrhulpen, op. cit., passim.
34. Joseph Maes, Les Kabila on figures mendiantes, in Annales du Musde dii
Congo Beige (VI) II. no. 2. 1938, p. 65-148.
35. Cavazzi. op. cit., p. 605.
36. Torday, op. cit.. p. 40.
37. Maes. Aniota-Kifwuebe, op. cit., p. 36.
38. M. Plancquaert, Les Jaga el les Bayaka, in Institut RoNal Colonial Belge,
Mdmioires, tome III, fasc. 1.
39. Monteiro and Gamitto, op. cit., p. 253-256.
40. Carl Kjersmeier, Les Centres de Style de la Sculpture Negre Africaine -
vol. III: I.e Congo Belge, Paris and Copenhagen, 1937, p. 31.
41. Sweeney, op. cit., p. 21.
42. Fry, op. cit., p. 76.
43. Hardy. op. cit., p. 122.
44. Bell, op. cit., p. 115.
1. Goldwater, Priiitivisin in Mnodern Painting, op. cit., p. 76.
2. Ibid, p. 118.
3. Carl Einstein, Georges Braque, Paris, 1934, p. 31, 132.
4. lames Ensor et les masques africains et ostendais, in Beaux-Arts (Brussels),
ann. VII, no. 250.