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1 WOVEN HISTORY: RAFFIA CLOTH IN THE KONGO By CARLEE S. FORBES A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2013
2 2013 Carlee S. Forbes
3 To my f amily and teachers who have shown me the joy of learning
4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This thesis project grew out of the opportunity that I have had for the past year to work on a collaborative project entitled Kongo Across the Waters, between the Harn Museum and the Royal Museum for Cent ral Africa in Tervuren, Belgium. I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to these two institutions, their staff, and especial ly to our curators for allowing me to take part in this project and parti cipate in this research process
5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 4 LIST OF FIGURES ................................ ................................ ................................ .......... 6 ABSTRACT ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 8 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 9 Art in the Kongo Kingdom ................................ ................................ ....................... 10 Organizat ion ................................ ................................ ................................ ........... 19 2 STUDYING KONGO ART ................................ ................................ ....................... 22 Perceptions of Kongo Art ................................ ................................ ........................ 22 Three Case Studies ................................ ................................ ................................ 28 3 PRESTIGE AND COSMOLOGIES: A KONGO TEXTILE COMPARISON .............. 39 Production and Embellishment Processes ................................ .............................. 41 Role of Raffia Textiles in Kongo society ................................ ................................ .. 46 Conclusion ................................ ................................ ................................ .............. 56 4 CHANGING TRADE PATTERNS AND MAT DESIGN ................................ ............ 69 Roles of Raffia Textiles: the Decline of Velvet Textiles ................................ ........... 70 Roles of Raffia Textiles: Mats as Status Symbols and Spiritual markers ................ 74 The Introduction of Figurative Motifs ................................ ................................ ....... 78 5 CONCLUSION ................................ ................................ ................................ ........ 88 LIST OF REFERENCES ................................ ................................ ............................... 91 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................ ................................ ............................ 98
6 LIST OF FIGURES Figure page 1 1 Images of mats in Kongo life from Dapper (1668) ................................ .............. 21 2 1 Burning of Fetishes, Theodore and Israel DeBry, 1598, e ngraving .................... 38 3 1 Embroidery c loth with g eometric design ................................ ............................. 57 3 2 Pile t echnique: d eta il of m pu ................................ ................................ ............... 57 3 3 Raffia m at ................................ ................................ ................................ ........... 58 3 4 Stepped pattern ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 58 3 5 Warp and w eft manipulation ................................ ................................ .............. 59 3 6 Kongo Mat s wit h f igurative i magery ................................ ................................ .. 61 3 7 Geometric m at ................................ ................................ ................................ .... 61 3 8 Figura tive mats ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 62 3 9 Female with c hild ................................ ................................ ............................... 62 3 10 s carification ................................ ................................ ......................... 63 3 11 Ivory h orn. ................................ ................................ ................................ ........... 63 3 12 Ivory s cepter ................................ ................................ ................................ ....... 64 3 13 Mpu ................................ ................................ ................................ ................... 64 3 14 Mats with funerary scenes ................................ ................................ .................. 65 3 15 Mat with funerary scene ................................ ................................ .................... 65 3 16 Niombo m ummy b undle, photograph ................................ ................................ 66 3 17 Mat details: b ottles ................................ ................................ .............................. 66 3 18 Mat details: h uman figures ................................ ................................ ................. 67 3 19 Images of l eopard objects in Kongo art ................................ ............................. 68 4 1 Meeting with the Portuguese 90. ................................ ................................ .. 85
7 4 2 sketch by the author) 1887 ................................ ................................ ............... 85 4 3 Images of mats in Kongo Life. Dybowski g 1893 ................................ ................................ ... 86 4 4 Early mummy bundle practice (ca 1787) ................................ ............................ 86 4 5 1912 Yombe Grave with raffia mat at European textile. ................................ ..... 87 4.6 Ntadi figure ................................ ................................ ................................ ........ 87 4 7 Wooden grave sculpture ................................ ................................ ..................... 87
8 Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts WOVEN HISTORY: RAFFIA CLOTH IN THE KONG O By Carlee S. Forbes May 2013 Chair: Victoria L. Rovine Major: Art History This thesis compares two types of raffia textiles from the former Kongo Kingdom region: sixteenth century raffia textiles that feature intricate geometric motifs and ni neteenth century mats of the same medium that use both figurative and geometric designs. Ms. Forbes brings forth a rarely discussed collection of mats from the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium that she discovered during her research for the upcoming Kongo Across the Waters exhibition at the Harn Museum of Art. She questions the introduction of figuration on the mats and proposes a combination of factors that may have contributed to this shift. These factors include: the role of raffia te xtiles as markers of status, the effects of the introduction of European imported cloth, the role of raffia mats in funerals, and the opportunities for artistic innovation.
9 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION lm fibers with velvet like decoration, of such beauty that better ones are not made in Italy. In no other part of Guinea is there a country where they are able to weave these clothes as in this kingdom of Congo. Duarte Pacheco Pereira, Esmeraldo de Situ Orbis (1505 8) 1 Early European encounters with the Kingdom of the Kongo, as described in this quotation from a Portuguese explorer, show a great admiration for the refined Kongolese textiles. These fine textiles are currently held in numerous European pri vate and museum collections. Another group of Kongo raffia products, mats, are much less prevalent in museum collections, but they are no less impressive. These mats date from the early 20th century and into the present. The mats feature geometric patterns characteristic of many Kongo arts in addition to incorporating figurative designs. These mats are rarely discussed in scholarship, overlooked for their older, finer counterparts. Examining the stylistic changes that occurred between the production of the early velvet textiles and these early 20th century mats reveals the significance of these mats and became the basis of this project. A comparison between the earliest Kongo textiles held in museums and the collection of Royal Museum for Central Africa (RM CA) mats forms the core of this study. The raffia used to create both types of objects offers a basis for comparison. The materials may be similar, but the two types of objects differ in their production techniques and iconography. The velvet textiles are made of fine fibers that permit 1 From Duarte Pacheco Pereira. Esmeraldo de Situ Orbis 1505 1508. Translated and Quoted in African Art and Artefacts by Ezio Bassani, 279.
10 weavers to create very detailed and intricate geometric patterns. 2 The mats are woven of larger raffia strips and feature a mixture of geometric and figurative designs. While still intricately made, the mats are far less det ailed than their velvet counterparts. My analysis of the change from velvet textiles to mats begins with an investigation of the connection between geometric patterns and Kongo cosmological beliefs. Understanding this spiritual connection reveals one posit ion of raffia textiles in Kongo society. Beyond such spiritual connections, raffia textiles also serve as indicators of status, products for trade, and funerary objects. The transition between the velvet textiles and the mats that happened in the late 18th and 19th century revolves around a variety of economic, political, and religious factors. These factors include the role of raffia textiles as indicators of status, the place of raffia textiles in the Kongo economy, the relationship between raffia textile s and European imported cloth, and the role of textiles in funeral practices. The change in raffia textiles reflects the complexity of these societal changes. Art in the Kongo Kingdom Raffia textiles are a part of a complex system of Kongo artistic produ ction, and understanding how art functions in Kongo society will aid in the discussion of raffia textiles. The Kongo Kingdom formed in the 14th century, and had established a firm The Kingdo m reached its height in the mid 16th century covering a region that stretched today from the mouth of the Congo River to Ki nshasa and to Luanda. From mid 16th century to the 2 to the raffia text iles collected in the 16 th early 18 th centuries. This name stems from the numerous references from European sources remarking upon the fine, velvet texture of the raffia cloth.
11 early 18th century, the Kongo suffered a number of civil wars that resul ted in the formal political fragmentation of the Kingdom. In spite of this fracture, however, the cultural similarities over the region continue. The Kongo capital (Mbanza Kongo) and the King continued to rule over a much smaller area until the being incor porated into the Congo Free State. While scholars have devoted their careers to studying the complexities of Kongo arts, it is necessary here only to provide only a brief overview of the function of the arts in Kongo society. Art produced in the Kongo has many forms: stone and wooden funerary sculpture, chief staffs, nkisi (power statues), swords, carved ivories, musical instruments, pottery, basketry, and textiles. Kongo art is categorized by the two major roles that it plays in society. The first is the spiritual aspect, where art is integrally connected to Kongo cosmology. Secondly, art functions as an indicator of prestige and wealth. While these serve as useful categories for understanding the role of art in Kongo society, it is important to note that t hese functions cannot be discretely divided. In Kongo society, prestige and wealth accompany leadership, but the a ncestors ordain the leadership, thus an object may serve to represent both spiritual and status roles. Kongo artistic forms illuminate Kongo spirituality. According to Robert Farris abiding concerns with moral continuity and renaissance, healing justice, and the splendor of the ideal perfect capital, Mbanza Kong 3 In Kongo thought, the realm of the living is integrally connected with the world of the dead. Chiefs, diviners, evil 3 Thompson, Robert Farris. "Kongo Civilization and Kongo Art" in The Four Momen ts of the Sun: Kongo Arts in Two Worlds exhibition catalog. Edited by Robert Farris Thompson and Joseph Cornet. 34 140. (Washington: DC National Gallery of Art, 1981), 27.
12 banganga (specialists) connect the world of the living to the spiritual realms of ancestors, ghosts, bisimi (sing. simb i spirits of localities), and minkisi (sing. nkisi spirits that assist nganga diviners and healers). 4 The Kongo cosmogram ( tendwa kia nza n' Kongo or dikenga dia Kongo in KiKongo) is a core symbol o f this intersection 5 Additionally, in its larger cont extual meaning, the dikenga comes to stand for as a people, and their relationships and interactions with ancestors and powerful 6 The visual representatio n of this idea that permeates society is in its simplest form a cross or X, two crossed lines, and it is a common visual theme. The dikenga creates a visual representation of the meeting of the two worlds. The many spiritual uses of Kongo arts may be sep arated into two, non exclusive categories or functions. The art may be a n active spiritual object, a conduit, or meeting place for the spirits. Or, the dikenga may be visually represented on objects. First, a rt may function as a way of communicating with the spirit world; thus, it acts a crossroads a meeting place between the two worlds. Minkisi are among the 4 MacGaffey, Wyatt. The Eyes of Understanding: Kongo Minkisi In Astonishment and Power edited by Wyatt MacGaffey and Michael D. Harris. 21 87. (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993), 59 60. 5 Kongo cosmology. However, recent arguments from Chris topher Fennell, John Janzen, and Wyatt MacGaffey, among others, signal the importance of referring to this idea/symbol in kikongo terms. Through the process of creating Kongo Across the Waters on to help has become a terminology crutch, and should be understood more fully in its kikongo terms. 6 Kongo Across the Waters. Edited by Susan Cooksey, Robin Poynor, and Hein Vanhee. ( Gainesville, Fla: University of F lorida Press, forthcoming).
13 most famous of theses spirit related objects. While some of these are the recognizable, nail studded figures, super stars of African art studies, no t all minkisi are art objects. They may take the form of found objects or cloth bundles. What makes an ordinary object become a nkisi is the presence of bilongo activating materials. 7 These objects serve to channel spirits, to aid legal agreements, to jud ge legal cases, to search out evil, and to protect the world of the living. 8 Graveyards are also places of spiritual crossroads and graves themselves can be considered as minkisi Some of the objects placed on graves or objects associated with funeral cere monies create links between the spiritual and living worlds. These include: musical instruments that create auditory connections with spirits and nganga both to commemorate and communicate bu t also to serve as containers for spirits. Although their exact roles in these events is beyond the scope of this paper, other art forms that have similar functions include the baskets, figurines, and masks that are used directly in divination and initiati on ceremonies. V isual representations of the dikenga also have an innate spiritual power. Often these visual representations in specific places signal a heightened spiritual importance. For example, a person may stand at the cross point of dikenga drawn o n the ground to swear an oath. 9 This symbol not only makes a visual reference to the spiritual world, but in these ritual moments, the space becomes charged with spiritual power. By revealing 7 Kongo Minkisi Journal of Southern African Studies. 14.2 (1988), 190. 8 MacGaffey, Wyatt. 86. 9 Fennell, Chris. Crossroads and Cosmologies: Diasporas and Ethnogenesis in the New World. (Gainesville, Fla.: Univers ity Press of Florida, 200 7), 33.
14 how the Kongo understand the dikenga, the spiritual power of the symbol is revealed. T he dikenga may be broken down to represent the four cardinal points. On the right (east) the rising sun signals the beginning of life, the top (north) is midday and maturation, the left (west) the setting sun and death, and finally th e bottom (south) is midnight and the existence in the spiritual realm only to be reborn to begin again. 10 The center, kalunga line represents the divide between the living and the dead. 11 This ritual function allows for an augmented significance beyond jus t being a visual motif. The crossed motif visually embodies these complex ideas about Kongo life, death, and ancestors. However, the depiction of the dikenga is not always as spiritual charged, t he idea of dikenga as a crossroads may also be more simply r epresented visually on objects. The dikenga may be depicted by a range of designs from a simple X pattern to complex, interwoven matrices. These patterns appear on many types of objects: textiles, baskets, pottery, staffs, ivory horns, figural sculpture, e tc. In places of spiritual importance, the cosmogram can be drawn on the ground or painted on rock face walls. 12 Additionally, Thompson explains that the body may be used to represent the cosmogram exemplified by figurative n iombo mummy bundles, with one ar m raised and one lowered. The cosmogram appears in many aspects of life, reasserting the importance of spirituality in Kongo culture 10 MacGaffey. Religion and Society. 43 49. 11 Fennell. Crossroads and Cosmologies. 33 12 Nyame Akuma 74 (2010): 42 50.
15 In addition to these religious objects, production of everyday objects signals the status, wealth, and power of the owner. Examples include: carved ivories, woven raffia textiles, raffia caps, raffia capes (or tunics) fly whisks, and staffs. They are extensively decorated and crafted with the utmost care. They would have been used by officials, kings, and ritual specialists as markers of their respective ranks. A 1668 image from Dapper shows an example of a Kongo King in full regalia. (figure 1 1) He wears a fine textile robe and leopard skin mantel. He is seated upon a dais covered in mats. A display of prestige items has be en created to the left of the king, and a fine embroidered textile has been hung behind his head. In the background, one notes the instruments that accompany the court and act as an indicator of status. Finally, a subject kneels before the king on a leopar d skin. Each of these items: the clothing, the leopard skin, Objects of prestige often stayed with the owners even in death and some were used to decorate graves. In addition to actual objects adorning graves wooden, and (later) cement figures as well as raffia textiles and other domestic items, such as Such embellished sions that represented the sodality of the social group and were typically displayed in overt, public settings, much like the 13 Grave objects illustrate that prestige and ritual objects are not completely separate entities. R eferences to the spiritual beliefs are often incorporated into the prestige objects, demonstrating that the owner was an important figure in Kongo society 13 n.p.
16 both for his leadership qualities and his role in relationship to the spiritual world. For example, t he staffs carried by kings may depict iconography based on the cosmogram. Alluding to the dikenga has a dual purpose. It connects Kongo chiefs to the spiritual world and also makes a visual statement that the chief has the power of the ancestors. The spiri tual importance of art and the use of art to display status also applies to raffia products, and will contribute to understanding not only of the importance of the objects in Kongo society but also to the explanation of the shift from velvet textiles to ma ts The visual language of power and spirituality shifted slightly with the European encounter and the introduction of Christianity in the late 15th century. The arts produced at this intersection aid in understanding the process by which the Kongo adopt ed and understood Christianity. The Kongo did not simply abandon their own styles and arts and adopt a European form of Christian representation; instead, they mixed their Kongo and Christian styles, iconography, and representations. Support of this comes from Massive, a region north of what would become the kingdom of Kongo, but inhabited by a subgroup of the Kongo people. Carbon dating identifies the chronology of these caves. Some of these paintings date to the 1200s, before European contact. 14 Additionally, James Denbow has uncovered potshards that use lozenge patterns similar to those later found on textiles and horns. 15 Thus, this provides evidence of pre Christian use of a crossed form. Wi th the introduction of Christianity, Christian and Kongo iconography and visual 14 Kongo Across the Waters. Edited by Susan Cooksey, et al. (Gainesville, Fla.: University of Florida Press, forthcoming). 15 Denbow, James. Rapport des progres obtenu au cours du projet archalogique au Congo de 1991. University of Texas, n.d., 8.
17 representations easily intersect. 16 The analysis of the similarities between the Kongo cosmogram and the Christian crucifix is the most studied and discussed meeting point for K ongo and Christian representations. The crucifix appears consistently throughout the literature on the adoption of Christianity in the Kongo and serves as an ideal example to explain the process of inventing a new Kongo Christian representational style. I n short summary, the crucifix was easily adopted and understood by the Kongo people because the cross form was already a symbol with which they were familiar. 17 The kalunga line is the horizontal axis and represents the divide between the physical world of the living and the world of the dead, a permeable boundary that allows spirits to act in the human sphere. The vertical axis is suggestive of this permeability and also the idea of linking god to humans at the crossroads. Likewise, the cross introduced by the Portuguese seems to link the dead with the living and signifies the interaction of god and the spirit world with those in the world of humans. Although the design is not specifically like that of the dikenga they are close. They understood the cosmogr am as a connection to the spiritual world Thus, the 16 The interaction between Kongo culture and Christianity is quite complex. For the sake of understanding the basics this discussion focuses on the visual manifestations of the encounter. However, there is also a large b ody of evidence surrounding the integration of Christian stories, practices, and language into pre Christian systems. See: Fromont, African Arts 44. 4 (2011): 52 63; MacGaffe y, Wyatt. Religion and Society in Central Africa: The BaKongo of Lower Zaire (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986): 191 The Development of an African Catholic Church in the Kingdom of Kongo, 1491 The Journal of Afric an History, 25. 2 (1984): 147 167. 17 RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics. 59 60 (201 1): 109 123, especially 115 117.
18 introduction of the cross imagery did not completely disrupt the previous Kongo beliefs; it merely adds another layer of understanding to the cosmogram and the spiritual world. Denbow and Fromont offer two studies of this iconographic blending and spiritual intersection. 18 Denbow explains the intersection of the two sets of imagery in twentieth century Kongo graves. A combination of new Christian burial practices and the introduction of cement created new grave figure forms. Most often, tombstones from the early 20 th century depict crosses/ comsograms. Additionally, the tombstones depict hearts and keys a European forms and images that came to be understood in Kongo terms. Another tombstone image shows a figure wearing European clothing; its placement on a Kongo grave illustrates this intersection between Kongo and European culture. Fromont describes the double meaning of the symbols and imagery in Kongo and Christian contexts. In a general overview of the adoption of Christian icons in the Kongo, she uses the Kongo crucifix to explain a distinction between the conceptual representation of the cosmogram and the mimetic representation of the crucifix. Kongo crucifixes have a different style than their Europe an counterparts. The Kongo crucifix is not as naturalistic. However, these crosses are not so abstract that they merely recall the cosmogram. The Kongo crucifix is instead a combination of these two forms 19 18 Denbow, James. The Journal of American Folklore 112, no. 445 (July 1, 1999): 404 Chrtiennes Ou Symboles Kongo? L De La Traite, XVIIe Cration Plastique, Traites et Esclavages Cahiers Des Anneaux De La Mmoire no. 12. Nantes: Anneaux de la mmoire, 2009: 47 60. 19 57
19 pact on Kongo artistic practices, the materials and products introduced through trade also affected Kongo arts. These new materials included cotton, cement and brass and products such as cotton cloth, porcelain vessels and other ceramic ware, and glass bot tles. Kongo artists adapted their works to incorporate these new materials and objects without greatly altering the spiritual and political systems. The use of art to display spiritual beliefs and status also still remained. Suzanne Blier and Nicole Bridge s reveal many aspects Kongo European relations through the investigation of trade ivories. Through ivories, which were made for export from the 1500s, one may show the story of European commercial interaction in the Kongo. The ivories added foreign element s and retained Kongo traits. They may be used to understand how the Kongo people viewed Europeans. Organization begin with an examination of the different methodological a pproaches used to discuss, analyze, and understand Kongo art. This will include an in depth analysis of three Four Moments of the Sun: Kongo Art in Two Worlds Astonishment and Power Dance, Image, Myth, and Conversion in the Kingdom of Kongo, 1500 represent Kongo art scholarship from three different periods and reach varying conclusions. The differences in how they use, discuss and draw conclusions about the art aided in forming my own the process to address the textiles. The second chapter will focus on the textiles. It will open with the awe and wonder that European visitors experienced when viewing the velvet textiles. This discussion shows the fascinati on that Europeans had with these early textiles. The next
20 portion compares the formal qualities of the two groups of objects. It begins with comparing the production materials, weaving techniques, and embellishment processes. I include a brief summary of t he role of raffia textiles in Kongo society this information is key to understanding the final section that breaks down and interprets the imagery of the velvet textiles and the mats. The formal analysis of the two groups of textiles highlights the changes that happened between the 16th/17th century and the 20th century mats. In the final chapter, I will suggest various factors that could explain why the changes in raffia textiles took place. The shift from velvet textiles to mats has a simple, economic an d political explanation; however, the introduction of figuration on the mats revolves around many more factors. Explanations for this shift involve a reiteration of make innovations. Explaining this shift not only adds to the narrative of the Kongo society at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, but it does so by bringing forth a body of evidence that has been overlooked or ignored in past scholarship.
21 Figure 1 1. Images of mats in Kongo life Dutch ambassadors at the court of Kongo in 1642, in Dapper (1668) (available in public domain)
22 CHAPTER 2 S TUDYING KONGO ART The way that scholars have studied, understood, and written about Kongo arts has ch anged over time. I have chosen to focus on three works to demonstrate these changes and the different methods that may be used to discuss Kongo art. I will analyze Four Moments of the Sun: Kongo Art i n Two Worlds Astonishment and Power African Arts Conversion in the Kingdom of Kongo, 1500 Kongo scholarship from d ifferent time period. Thompson and MacGaffey are firmly established as experts on Kongo art and these landmark works continue to be referenced today. Fromont is a rising scholar. These works reveal different methods that may be used to study Kongo art and the varying types of conclusions that can be made. Perceptions of Kongo Art The long history of interaction between the Kongo and Europe, beginning with the first European contact in 1487, has created an extensive body of references to the Kingdom. There are many types of sources, from accounts of official emissaries (such as Antonio Manuel, the official Kongo ambassador who arrived at the Vatican in 1608) to traders writing of their encounters with Kongolese to reports from missionaries to anthropologists reveal differing perceptions of Kongo art. Examining collecting practices and accompanying collection notes may be used to infer some of these perceptions. Ezio on African art in European collections delves into collection notes and object inventories to show the interaction between Europe and the Kongo, and
23 century. In the era o f first contact, beginning in 1487, Europeans interacted with the people of the Kingdom of the Kongo with terms of relative equality. These early encounters showed a level respect for Kongo civilization its organization, its people, and its arts. Art flow ed between Kongo and Europe. In this period, explorers brought 1 The political climate in Europe during the late 15th century until the 17th century directly influence d the European reception of Kongo art. The European attitude towards art reflects the idea that Kongolese and Europeans were of a somewhat equal status. Representatives from the Kongo were consistently present and accepted as dignitaries in the Portuguese court and the Vatican. 2 Europeans saw Kongo objects as well made, interesting curiosities and were willing to accept and collect them. A 1448 ledger of gifts palm fiber wel 3 Objects were frequently given as official gifts; they were traded and highly valued. In 1669, Ruff, the Secretary of the Superior Council in Wttemberg, presented a Kongo raffia textile and a basket to the Duke of Wttemberg Ruff (a European) had most likely obtained the objects from his son in law 1 Bassani, Ezio. African Art and Artefacts in European Collections 1400 1800 (London: British Museum Press, 2000), xxii xxiii. 2 In Kongo Across the Waters. Edited by Susan Cooksey et al. (Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, forthcoming 2013) 3 Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration Edited by Jay A Levenson: 63 68
24 who had acquired them from Christian Royal, an African who was living in Lindau, Germany. 4 Even though these objects were valued, Europeans always viewed them through a Eurocentr ic lens revealing the wider attitudes towards Kongo civilization. While Europeans accepted Kongo dignitaries and exchanges, there was still a status hierarchy in which Europe was at the top. This attitude of European superiority also manifests in the impre ssions of Kongo art; Europeans often commented how surprised they were that Kongo textiles were of the same, or better, quality than the European textiles. Bassani points out that until the twentieth century, Kongo (and Sierra Leonian) raffia mats and carv ed ivories were the only artifacts that the Europeans received favorably (as opposed to other African objects, such as masks). 5 However, this attitude was only relevant concerning objects that could easily be understood in European society (ivories and tex In 1591, Pigafetta described the burning of wooden and stone sculptures, and a later 1598 engraving by Theodor and Jean de Bry depicts the event. 6 (figure 2 1) They did not consider the ob jects that they were burning art it was a threat to the Christianizing mission. 7 4 Bassani, Ezio. African Art and Artefacts 124 5 Bassani, Ezio. African Art and Artefacts xxv 6 Era Africa a nd Europe The Idol in the Age of Art: Objects, Devotions and the Early Modern World. St Andrews Studies in Reformation History. Edited by Michael Wayne Cole and Rebecca Zorach. 11 30. ( Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2009), 13 14. 7 Bassani, Ezio. African Art and Artefacts xxxv.
25 This attitude shifted around the 17th century with the continued development of the transatlantic slave trade and the beginning of European imperial/colonial motivations. Euro peans began t o develop an attitude of superiority over the Kongo people. This attitude influenced a projection of Africans, African products, and African art as savage. Non western objects and cultures were not to be considered on par with European art, th us the objects entered natural history collections with examples of plants, bones, and animals. 8 A 1665 catalog of a German collection describes the Plants, Types of Ore and Rock, Precious and Other S tones, Foreign Timber and Fruits, Artistic and Curious Things, Paintings, Shells and Shell 9 basket. Throughout the 18th ce ntury, the Age of Enlightenment saw a different view on collecting African objects. Europeans were still interested in the habits, practi ces, and lives of non Europeans 10 In addition, Rousseau, and others, began to popularize the and Polynesian cultures) as someone a pure state of nature wise gentle, uncorrupted 8 The collection of these items became associated with wealth and the advancement of scholarly pursuits. There were aristocratic collections, collections from missionaries, royal collections, Art and Artefacts, xxi xxxvii. 9 Century Germany: Christoph Weickmann's"Kunst und Naturkammer" African Arts 27.2 (1994): 28. 10 Vogel, Susan. Art/Artifact: African Art in Anthropology Collections (New York: Museum for African Art, 1988), 12.
26 by civilization. 11 The objects collected from these people then, could be examples of this noble lifestyle. In the late 19th and early 20th century, colonialism became the defining characteristic of European attitudes towards Africa. In 1885, the Berlin conference split up African territory among European powers. As the colonial period progressed the colonize rs strove to save and record aspects of an unpolluted African culture and practices before it became dirtied by European ideas. Adolf Bastian, the founder of the produc ts of the civilizations of the savages and accumulate them in our museums to 12 Europeans began to view themselves as saviors and guardians of the products of African cultures. This interest in cultural histories contributed to growth of anthropological and historical scholarship. Early Kongo fieldwork came from anthropologically inclined missionaries like Leo Bittremieux and Karl E. Laman. The missionaries acted with the same attitudes as museum collectors. They recorded ways of life, rituals, and other research includes quotations from many interviews and fieldwork completed by his Kongolese assistants. These assistants had converted to Christia nity and were concerned with recording the quickly vanishing traditional history. One assistant, 11 Ellingson, Ter. The Myth of the Noble Savage. (Berkley: University of California Press, 2001): 1 12 Bassani, Ezio. African Art and Artefacts xxxvi
27 book, for who knows whether the generations to come will know how to preser ve 13 The earliest African art historians had to navigate this long dialogue of art reception, colonialism, primitivism, and modernism, and had to construct their own methods for scholarship. The first historians of African art, Roy Sieber and Robert Farris Thompson focused their scholarship on research collected during fieldwork. 14 Sieber, who worked both in Ghana, northeast Nigeria, and Yorubaland, focused on ideas of style and history and the developme nt of a type of African style connoisseurship, while from the Yoruba perspective 15 In reading many of these works, the authors attempt to reconcile their expectations of find with their observations that cultures are continually in flux and adapting to modern day challenges and situations. This idea that an art form could be purely unpolluted leads to an assertion that th e arts of Africa were, in a sense, ahistorical and unchanging. However, this view began to change in the 1970s as scholars began to combine fieldwork with research of documentary evidence. 16 The assumptions concerning African art from the early European exp lorers and missionaries, to the first anthropologists and early African art histories bring forth questions to be considered when examining past studies of Kongo art. 13 MacGaffey, Wyatt. 14 15 61. 16
28 Three Case Studies This section will focus on the methodology of three scholarly works to reveal various approaches and conclusions that may be used to understand Kongo art. I have chosen these three works by Thompson, MacGaffey, and Fromont not only because they represent Kongo scholarship from different time periods, but also because of th e importance that they play in discussions of Kongo art. Thompson and MacGaffey are both firmly established experts in Kongo art, and their works were landmark publications and are fundamental texts for the study of Kongo art. To accompany these two well k different approaches and conclusions about Kongo art. These three works represent the transformation that has occurred in the study of African art. My comparison of these th as support. These scholars differ in their methodologies for approaching Kongo objects. Using the definitions and examples of approaches to African visual arts as outlined an d presented by Ben published in 1989 in African Studies Review 17 Although it is difficult to place them clearly within Ben MacGaf social structures to explain the appearance of certain artistic motifs, symbols, or forms. They explain Kongo arts as reflections of the cultural system. The two authors differ, ho wever, in their use of sources, and the variety of artic genres that they use as 17 African Studies Review. 32.2 (1989): 1 African Studies Review. 32.2 (1989): 55 103.
29 examples. By using art from a distinct period of change and transition, Fromont differs from Thompson and MacGaffey. She presents art as both a reflection of Kongo culture and an active agent used to define and create a new Kongo Christian culture. In addition to artistic representations, Fromont also draws upon a variety of sources. study of Kongo art. Four Moments of the Sun was written in 1981 to accompany an exhibition with the same name at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. The exhibition was the first to bring toget her many forms of Kongo art. The exhibition presented a b road range of Kongo art encompassing minkisi sculpture, ideographic signs, niombo mummy bundles, funerary drums, funerary vessels, and grave statuary. The structuralist nature of the discussion in the book emphasizes the relationship between the object, Ko ngo spiritual belief, and the interconnections between the living and spiritual worlds. All objects selected for the exhibition and discussed in the book were chosen to support his assertions about Kongo spiritual belief. With this method, objects are pres ented as passive. They are reflections of the cosmological beliefs; they do not play a role in defining Kongo beliefs or creating any kind of societal change. discussing specific visual purposes, the visual elements also connect to spiritual ideas. Thompson makes a visual connection between the pose of niombo mummy bundles and the idea of the Kongo indicates the importance of death as a time of
30 transition and as a meeting place between the spiritual and living worlds. 18 Or, in another case, Thompson connects the poses of certain ntadi grave sculptures to depict the chief in sadness or contemplation ov er his role as an intermediary between the spiritual and living realms. 19 Thompson mainly utilizes research and conclusions from Western scholars regarding Kongo art. He does utilize the writings of Fu Kiau, a Congoloese scholar who has also been initiated into three secret societies (Lemba, Khimba and Kimpasi) giving Western scholars. Although many of his claims concerning Kongo cosmologies remain truthful today, often much i nsight can be gained from research from the Kongo people themselves. Questioning their thoughts and feelings towards art objects adds immensely to the overall understanding of the objects and the roles that they play in society. on displaying Kongo cosmology and does not address the influence of European contact, changing economic and status models, or Christianity upon the system. Adams explains that in the 1970s and 80s the trend in art historical studies was to explain African arts through process and function just as this study shows. However, this approach hinders scholars from seeing real life tensions, conflicts, or consequences (such as the ones presented in changing social situations). 20 African art, as Adams explains, has always had a dual heritage and identity that of art 18 66. 19 Thompson, 131. 20
31 history and of anthropology. 21 reflects this anthropological interest when anthropologists would have been more interested in dealing with these soc ial issues as they are manifested in art. exhibition and the accompanying book had a clearly stated goal a goal that it y stated aim was to show how Kongo cosmological beliefs were manifested in funerary practices and judicial processes. 22 The exhibition was not meant to be a comprehensive display of Kongo art. It was not meant to show the changing context of social history in the Kongo. Instead, 23 As thus, this exhibition remains an exemplary overview of Kongo art. The range of ar t presented in the book and the ties to Kongo cosmology remain in use for scholarship today. Astonishment and Power again, a book written to accompany the exhibition of the same name, consisting of two parts: one by MacGaffey that addresses Kongo minkisi and one by Michael Harris that addresses the art of Renee stout, an American artist whose work reflects the form and the meanings oh Kongo minkisi The National Museum of African Art exhibition was c o curated with Michael Harris, who curated the section on Renee minkisi can be used to 21 56. 22 Additionally, although it will not be discussed in this paper, this exhibition showed the first documentation of Kon go practices in the American diaspora. 23 Thompson, Robert Farris. "Kongo Civilization." 132.
32 illustrate and illuminate Kongo history for a specific time frame, from 1880 1921. This minkisi can be used to show how Kongo reacted to the expansion of colonialism and Christianity. Like Thompson, MacGaffey also draws on structuralist tendencies for his argument. However, his focus on one source of Kongo art, minkis i and his use of varied sources creates a different angle for his argument. MacGaffey shows the role that minkisi play in Kongo society and how this role Minkisi act as agents to promote social conformity, ensure public health seek out society disruptions, etc. MacGaffey explains his approach: minkisi are like historical, ethnographic notes, they record a particular historical 24 bjects are passive responses to historical events. He states that they are records of a particular historical moment; they are not active participants in determining Kongo beliefs and practices. That Kongo beliefs determined minkisi does not mean that the objects had no active roles in society. In the passages that describe specific minkisi MacGaffey uses minkisi can play in the community. For example: Lunkanka is an nkisi in strength lay in seizing [its victims], crushing their chests, making them bleed from the nose, and excrete pus; driving knives into their chests, twisting necks, breaking arms and legs, knotting their i ntestines, giving them so on 25 24 25
33 In addition, MacGaffey explains that minkisi acted as forms of Kongo resistance. This resistance was signaled by the fact that colonial officials and missionaries burned many minkisi ; minkisi must have been threatening objects. 26 Accounts such as these show the active role that minkisi were playing in Kongo society as agents of order. golese by his Kongolese assistants. 27 of minkisi notes include how the population viewed the nkisi the nkisi activated/used, etc. His explanation of the uses of individual objects gives a more detailed understanding of how minkisi fit into Kongo cosmological beliefs than Thom Additionally, by using Kongo testimonies, MacGaffey eliminates some of the problems inherent in drawing conclusions based on Western observations and perceptions, clearly identifying problems that aris e from relying too heavily on Western sources. He addresses how European ethnic definitions of Kongo have led to misclassifications/assumptions of differences in styles or meaning and the wrongful classification of minkisi 28 With these limita tions in mind, MacGaffey 29 Piecing together 26 27 28 26, 32 33 29
34 the minksi story is a complicated process. Some of the minksi were used in rituals that are not remembered by contemporary populations and are o nly described in archaic and obscure vocabularies. Additionally, these objects have been removed from their by European collectors meaning that elements we re removed (such as feathers) and they were made shiny through polishing. 30 Reconstructing this story replies on many sources of information. By recognizing the limitations of European sources and by focusing on Kongo sources of information, minkisi seek to represent a truer interpre tation of Kongo beliefs than those that are based upon Western sources and assumptions. minkisi in his study were collected in and are representative of a certain time period, from 1880 1921, allows him to make assertions concerning the ability of minkisi to adapt and change over time. Although not pictured and not thoroughly discussed in his book, MacGaffey includes brief mention of modern minkisi such as ballpoint pens transformed into minkisi to aid students in their ex aminations and sunglasses that become minkisi to protect taxi drivers from accidents. 31 This small mention shows that minkisi can change form and function over time. MacGaffey stresses the specificity of his time period throughout his introduction, but the proceeding texts (apart from the pens and sunglasses) do not fully explore this idea. Nonetheless, this ability to show change and innovation of objects within a system declare that Kongo artistic traditions are timeless he acknowledges certain changes 30 Fang: An Epic Journey for a fictional yet based on true eve nts, account of the journey of a Fang reliquary. 31
35 that occurred, such as the introduction of cement and the resulting change in funerary does not req uire investigation of artistic innovation. difficult to categorize than that of Thompson or MacGaffey. Fromont begins by studying the transformation of a pre European ceremony, S angamento She traces how sangmanento transitioned from being an instrument of Kongo power to a reflection of new Christian ideals. For this, she looks at the mythological and political transformations that took place in the Kongo with the advent of Christ ianity. 32 By examining how Kongolese came to understand Christian mythology (like the stories of St. James) and how the Kongo political system changed with the introduction of Christianity, Fromont is able to show the significant role that sangamento had in defining Kongo identity. Therefore, like Thompson and MacGaffey, she is showing how a certain art (in this case a dance/ritual) can be interpreted through a societal context. However, unlike Thompson and Macgaffey, Fromont emphasizes that the art (dance) was actively used to influence the process of religious change. 33 The art is no longer a passive reflection of the culture; it instead becomes an active agent for change. The other art forms she addresses include symbols of Saint James ( cross and shells) t he Kongo coats of arms, and adaptations of European sword forms. Through each of these examples, the art forms are considered active agents in Kongo identity and the dialogue between Kongo traditional practice and Christianity. 32 33
36 ses a mixture of sources. Her work is distinct from the others because she uses the objects as her main body of evidence to explain Kongolese thought. Although Thompson also uses objects as a main source for his approach it appears that the objects are an afterthought they are reflections of the Kongo cosmology. For example, this structure seems to operate as: the Kongo believed in the importance of the cosmogram, the body m ay take the form of a co s mogram by having one arm up and one arm down; this explains the appearance of the pose in the art. Instead, Fromont uses the art forms to explain the process through which the Kongo people adopted and understood Christianity. The a rt objects are integral to discovering new meaning and insights pertaining to Kongo culture. She then inserts this visual narrative into the existing scholarship, adding a new layer of understanding to the Th e work of these three scholars demonstrates the various methods that may be used to understand and present ideas related to the study of Kongo art and culture. Thompson began with a sweeping overview. He focused on cultural practices and used objects as su presenting a large body of Kongo art in an exhibition for the first time. Reviews of the exhibition and catalog contain only praise for the exhibition. 34 Edward Lifschitz, then curator researched, carefully selected, and sensitively mounted exhibition did very adequate 34 African Arts 15, no. 4 (1982): 72 Four Moments of the Sun: Kongo Art in Two worlds. African Arts 16, no. 1 (1982): 23,25, 28, 30 31, 33, 87, 96.
37 justice to the arts of an African culture long neglected by American scholars and 35 A dditionally, African History professor emeritus Jan Vansina writes that it 36 This exhibition laid the groundwork for further scholarship and exhib itions. MacGaffey showed that it is possible to study cultural reflections in specific objects. This approach was very helpful for illuminating individual objects and presenting a diverse understanding of minkisi within Kongo society. This exhibition was s Laman data and his ability to relate all of this to larger anthropological issues o f spirituality. 37 This exhibition proved to be a step forward in creating a more comprehensive understanding of Kongo art. art to understand how it fits into the context of Kongo culture, she also includes new documentary and archival sources. And, most of all, unlike MacGaffey and Thompson, she demonstrates the role and agency of art to define and create culture practice. 35 Lifschitz, Edward African Arts 15.4 (1982), 74. 36 87 37 African Arts 26.4 (1993), 62.
38 Figure 2 1. Burning of F etishes Theodore and Israel DeBry 1598. Engraving ( available in public domain)
39 CHAPTER 3 PRESTIGE AND COSMOLOGIES: A KONGO TEXTILE COMPARISON My discussion of Kongo textiles begins with the earliest European explorers to the region in the 15th and 16th centuries. The velvet tex tiles from the 16th to 18th centuries have a finer quality than their 20th century mat counterparts do not have the same fine quality as their velvet counterparts dating from the 16th to 18th centuries. The velvet textiles are intricately decorated, textur ized, and embellished. Conversely, the mats are coarsely woven and are less textured. The comparison of these textiles from different time periods reveals changes in production techniques, materials, and design, but it also shows a continuous use of specif ic geometric patterns. After establishing these comparisons, I will explore the meaning and significance of the designs (both geometric and figurative) in Kongo culture. Before discussing the formal qualities of these cloths, the reaction that Europeans had to the velvet like textiles shows the great admiration for the textiles in 1 Both explorers and collectors commented on the fine quality of these c loths: better ones are not made in Italy. In no other part of Guinea is there a country where they are able to weave these clothes as in this kingdom of Congo. 2 ( Duarte Pacheco Pereira 1505 1508) There are four mats made with admirable skill in the Kingdom of Angola at the Cape of Good Hope. They look like a silk cloth notwithstanding they are 1 From Filippo Pigafetta. A History of the Kongo. Quoted in African Design: An Illustrated Survey of Traditional Craftwork by Margaret Trowell (Mineola, NY: Do ver Publications Inc, 2003), 27. 2 From Duarte Pacheco Pereira. Esmerald o de Situ Orbis 1505 1508. Translated and Quoted in African Art and Artefacts by Ezio Bassani, 279.
40 made of very thin palm threads. Flowers arranged with wonderful art, like those show n by silk velvet are visible on them. Pigafetta mentions them in his Description of the Kingdom and adds that the ir name is Baidelcan in their language. We are rightly amazed to see among barbarous peoples so great an art which surpasses or equals the European one 3 (from Bonanni, director of Jesuit collection museum in Rome, 1709) Works well done by an artisan of the Congo, among the barbarians there is such great art that surpasses our silk weaves. 4 (from Latin catalogue of Works worth y to be noticed for the rarity of the weaving which in those countries is quite usual, while in our great city of Milan there are only two weavers who are equally knowledgeable. 5 collection, 1666) Artfully woven cloths, c ushions and carpets which seen from afar appear to be of silk velvet. 6 (From Duke of Fottorp Collection record, 1666) These quotes reveal that despite the Eurocentric attitudes of the time Europeans saw these as fantastic objects and as works of art. Whi le the references to Kongo velvet textiles are many, there are few references to the early use of mats. One of the only that description that interior wall s were decorated with woven straw 3 From Father Filippo Bonanni. A.P. Philippo Bonanni Societatis Jesu Musaeum Kircherianum sive a P. Athanasio Kirchero in Collegio Romano Societais Jesu Jam Priden inceptum Nuper restitutum auctum descriptum et iconibus illustraum. 1709. Translated and Quoted in African Art and Artefacts by Ezio Bassani, 162. 4 From Paolo Maria Terzago. Musaeum Septalianum Manfredi Septalae Patritii Mediolanensis industrioso labore constructum, 1664. Translated and Quoted in African Art and Artefacts by Ezio Bassani, xxxii 5 From Pietro Francesco Scarabelli. Museo, Galeria, adunata dal sapere e dallo studio del sig. canonico Manfredo Settala nobile milanese 1666. Translat ed and Quoted in African Art and Artefacts by Ezio Bassani, xxxii 6 From A. Olearius Gottorffische Kunst Kammer, Worinnen Allerhand ungemeine Sachen, so Theils die Natur, theils kunstliche Hande hervor gebracht und bereitet, 1666. Quoted in African Art a nd Artefacts by Ezio Bassani, xxxii.
41 tapestries. 7 This lack of response from the Europeans illustrates how enamored and impressed they were with the velvet textiles. Production and Embellishment Processes The first point of comparison between the velvet text iles and the mats are the production techniques and embellishment processes. Both are woven from raffia Raffia fibers are extracted from palm leaves. Palm leaves are harvested just before the new leaves unfurl. The midrib is then removed, separating the l eaves into individual units. The skin of the leaf is removed to reveal the fiber within. That fiber is then dried and is ready for use 8 meters long. 9 T he differences between the vel vet textiles and the mats lie in the type of raffia materials, the way in which they are constructed, and the type of decoration they utilize. Both sets of objects are made palm fibers that are then woven together The 16th to 18th century examples are ma de from the finest and thinnest palm fibers. The fibers are extracted by first harvesting the palm leaves before they unfurl, detaching the 10 Thus, 7 Sinclair. The Development of Urbanism from a Global Perspective Uppsala University, Sweden 8 Coart, mile Jean Baptiste. Vannerie et tissage. ( Bruxelle 1926), 11 14 ; Vansina, Jan. Raffia Cloth in West Central Africa, 1500 1800 266 267. 9 Maes, Joseph. Vannerie au Lac Leopold II. ( Bruxel 4. 10 Textiles: Production, Trade, and Demand edited by Maureen Fennell Mazzaoui. An Expanding World v. 12. (Ald ershot: Variorum, 1998.), 266 267
42 the size and length of t he frond determines the maximum size of the textile. Instead of beginning with fine strands of raffia fiber, the RMCA mats utilize large, flat strips of raffia. The looms used for both processes are a vertical loom that consists of two poles that were poun ded into the ground. 11 The warp threads are tied between these two posts, and the process of weaving in the weft threads begins. The use of palms was not limited to weaving the fine, embroidered, and embellished examples. Palm products were an integral part economy. Palm wine was produced for daily consumption although it was too perishable to be traded over long distances. 12 However, raffia cloth trade stretched across the Kingdom and was a part of the taxation system to the Kongo capi tal Mbanza Kongo. 13 Palm trees were therefore planted and cultivated with great care. 14 Raffia cloth had many forms. Small, high quality (but undecorated) pieces were used as currency and rougher woven pieces worn as common clothing. There was a whole lexico n associated with the different types of textiles, grades, and uses for raffia products. 15 The names for these earliest examples vary. In the 16th century, Pigafetta describes incorimbas (brocade), enzacas (velvets), infulas (damasks), tangas (taffetas), an d 11 Italian Missionary P. Antonio Zucchelli da Gradisca describes these looms in his 1712 account. See Bassani. Art and Artefacts, 278. 12 Thornton, John K. The Kingdom of Kongo: Civil War and Transition, 1641 1718 (Madiso n: WI, University of Wisconsin Press, 1983), 30, 34. 13 277 14 African Economic History, 15 (1986): 1 15 Balandier, Georges. Daily Life in the Kingdom of the Kongo from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century Daily Life Series no. 9. (London: Allen & Unwin, 1968), 114 116
43 engombo s (sarsenets, fine silk). 16 Within all of these different types, the general terminology for luxury, highest quality cloth is lubong o or mbondo 17 The woven designs of the early objects were created in two ways, and a single textile could include ex amples of both techniques. The first method, embroidery, involved sewing the design into the woven cloth. (figure 3 1) This embroidery was done in such a way that the design is only visible on the front. Embroidery created a raised surface and allowed for extra embellishments that were difficult to obtain through the were added to the weft in loops or rings. These loops are later cut leaving the trace of small tufts. 18 (fig ure 3 2) When rubbed back and forth, piling creates the velvet like Designs on these 16th to 18th century textiles are very geometric in nature, with no figurative representations. The angular motifs often revo lve around the use of a lozenge, with many variations, including interlacing grids, checkerboards, stepped pattern, or of braided lozenges. Many feature braided patterns set against an undecorated background and then enclosed within a box. The box seems to float on top of the undulating texturized, geometric background of zig zags. The use of these small motifs allows a slight pause among the busy, highly regularized backdrop. These 16 Lopez, Duarte A Report of the Kingdome of Congo, a Region of Africa Translated by Abraham Hartwell. London: Printed by Iohn Wolfe, 1597, 39 40. 17 Pereira, Mario. African Art at the Portuguese Court 1450 1521. Ph.D. Diss., Brown University, 2010, 4 ; Martin, Phyllis M. The External Trade of the Loango Coast, 38 39 18 Bassani, Ezio. Art and Artefacts 278.
44 designs are also highlighted by the weaving techniques that have raised the m up from the surface. The textiles also include fringe or pompoms on the edges. By the twentieth century, due to changes in economic and cultural systems as will be described in detail in the following chapter the production of the fine textiles had ceas ed. European collecting practices shifted to obtaining mats objects that had been ignored because of their lesser quality. 19 These raffia mats have received much less attention than their velvety counterparts, but they still have many interesting visual asp ects and can be connected to Kongo beliefs. Recall that the materials used to produce these mats are of different quality than the materials used to make the earlier textiles. Additionally, in terms of embellishment, instead of using piling or embroidery, the designs are directly woven into the mats. consists of assembled parallel elements; the second by interlacing crossed elements, and the third by bringing together plaited strips 20 While all of these three techniques can all be found within the present day Congo region, Coart only provides Kuba examples of the first technique and examples with unidentified origins for the third. In addition, these techniques do not produce intrica te or complicated patterns. Thus, because there are no clearly identified examples to support a claim that the Kongo used these techniques, and because their patterns do not relate to the others, mats produced 19 Ima These examples do not seem to be decorated; however, their presence in the images show that mat production was occurring in earlier time periods; they were just not collected b y Europeans. 20 These processes are described in detail, with accompanying figures and diagrams in: Coart, mile Jean Baptiste. Vannerie et tissage. 1926), 15 31
45 with these techniques shall be excluded. The s econd process, interlacing elements, comes close to the conventional ideas of weaving, consisting of a warp and weft. In this process, the weaver sets the warp then weaves the weft, in an alternating pattern, through the warp. With a consistent pattern and equally sized warp and weft, the checkerboard is the most basic form t hat process produces. (figure 3 3) However, by altering this pattern more complex designs may be created. For example, if the warp creates and over three, under two, over three pattern in the first line then the second warp begins this pattern just one weft to the left, the design become steppe d rather than checked (Figure 3 4). The pattern may become even more complicated if the in and out weaving of the we ft is not regularized (Figure 3 5). Just as in cloth embellishment, this process requires foresight and vision from the weaver to visualize the pattern and to know when to change the pattern. By adding a colored warp, the complicated pattern emerges from the background. The colored wa rp also allows for the introduced figures to stand out. The patterns that are created through the manipulation of the warp and weft are both geometric and figurative. Like the early textiles, these mats often feature geometri c and angular designs (Figure 3 6). These woven designs are repeated in a mathematical manner. 21 However, the mats also introduce figuration into the raffia designs. The figurative examples at Tervuren, include: antelope, lizard a leopard, human figures, and bottles, (Figure 3 7). Thes e figures retain a certain geometric quality, with pointed corners and sloping, rather than curved, lines. In addition, many of these figurative 21 Paulus Gerdes has studied symmetries, geometries, and mathematics of woven designs within an ethnographic context. Her works examine the relationship between cultural ideas and the use of certain patterns. See her works listed in bibliography
46 examples composed of regularized geometric motifs. For example, a collection of diamonds creates the leopard, a nd the antelope has a zig zag through it. The examples with figurative designs are less complex and not as intricate as the interlocking designs of the earlier textiles and the strictly geometric mats. Although outside of my early twentieth century defined parameter, the figurative examples continued to develop and change. that depict a man of a bike and a hunting scene (Figure 3 8). Role of Raffia Textiles in Kongo society Thro ughout the entire period in which both velvet textiles and mats were produced, raffia textiles and mats played many roles in Kongo society. They were worn, traded, hung on walls, used as ground covering, and used to wrap bodies of deceased nobles. They ser ved as markers of status. In addition to these uses, the textiles were connected to Kongo spiritual beliefs. Only the Kongo king and the members of the court whom he appointed were permitted to wear or display the finest quality textiles. 22 A report from th e 1491 visit of Portuguese emissaries indicates that textiles were also hung on the wall, much like the tapestries that were displayed in Europe at that time. 23 In addition, these textiles were traded and presented to foreign dignitaries as objects of prest ige. 24 The hierarchy of textiles and the regulations surrounding them were so important that if a person was found selling a high 22 Dapper, Olfert. a situation & les confins ... (Amsterdam: Wolfgang, Waesberge, Boom & van Someren, 1686.), 324. 23 Pereira, Mario. African Art at the Portuguese Court, 149. 24 Pereira, Mario. African Art at the Portuguese Court, 150 (see also footnote no. 436)
47 permission, he or she could be executed. 25 The Kongo people knew well and understood the differ ences between the different grades of textiles. 26 As an outsider, Dapper described the difficulty of this quality identification: There are four kinds of cloths. The best and most refined ones are decorated with figures, and the most skillful weaver needs f ifteen or sixteen days to make one of them, notwithstanding that they are not larger than two spans and a half. Only the king or those allowed by him can wear these cloths. A second type is not as half in refined quality as the first one but it resembles i t very much, and unless to be an expert, at first sight one will be wrong because it is also decorated with figures. To know the difference one has to examine the back of the cloths. 27 The sumptuary regulations surrounding these cloths reflect the intricac ies of their production. A single cloth could take fifteen to sixteen days to complete. 28 Thus, the production itself can be used to affirm the prestige of the wearer as one who can afford to acquire the materials and commission the weaver. In addition to the decorated cloths being used as clothing and markers of status, undecorated cloths were used as currency. The cloths were thin, but tightly woven. corner. 29 It is of note that this was not necessarily a currency in the full sense of the term, Vansina asserts that it is unlikely that it was used in the buying and selling of 25 Martin, 26 Martin, Phyllis M. The External Trade of the Loango Coast, 1576 1870 117. 27 From Olfert Dapper. Translated and quoted in Bassani, Art and Artefacts, 278 28 From Ol fert Dapper. Translated and quoted in Bassani, Art and Artefacts, 278 29 Textiles: Production, trade and Demand. Edited by Maureen Fennell Mazzaoui, 263 281. An Ex panding World vol 12. (Aldershot: Variourum, 1998), 16.
48 goods. 30 However, there is evidence that the cloth could be collected as a tribute tax. 31 Other import ant events also included the exchange of raffia textiles such a textiles in a marriage agreement, or as a sign of friendship. 32 Thus, raffia may not necessarily be used in everyday transactions, but its exchange signals of prestige, status, or respect. Ap art from signaling prestige and power, the designs on the textiles also symbolize Kongo spiritual beliefs. As noted in chapter 2, the living world of the Kongo integrally connects to the world of the dead. The cosmogram, as described and explored by Thomps on, is an ideogram often used to describe the crossroads and meeting place between these two worlds. 33 The geometric, linear patterns on the textiles are complex interpretations of this cosmogram. This design proliferates across various Kongo art forms, as way ideas of spatial and conceptual division such as those between living and dead, 34 The frequency and contexts in which the design appears affirms the interpretatio n of the connection to Kongo spirituality, and also shows the importance of this connection to the spiritual world. One sees the interlaced lozenge frequently incorporated into Kongo arts in other media. Periera argues that the use of these geometric patt erns on other Kongo art 30 31 t Central Africa 32 9. 33 Thompson, Robert Farris. Kongo Civilization and Kongo Art," 43 48. 34 The Art Bulletin 75. 3 (1993),
49 forms was transferred from the textiles designs. 35 Geometric patterning appears on phemba f igure s (Figure 3 9), 10), an ivory horn (Figure 3 11), and an ivory scept er (Figure 3 12). The ph emba figure is a maternity sculpture, 36 On these statues, the interlaced The patterns o n the Phemba sculptures reflect actual scarification practices that are depicted on this early 20 th century postcard. They are signs of female beauty and also relate to ideas of fertility 37 The ivory horn and scepter also serve as symbols of prestige and the connection to the spirit world. The horn is an example of a prestige object traded with or given to Europeans The horn also serves to illustrate the Kongo perception of the Portuguese as ancestor sprits. In initial contact due to Kongo spiritual beliefs about the spirit world connected to the living world by wate r, and the association of white with the spirits Europeans were viewed as spiritual beings, worldly manifestations of the spirits. 38 Thus, the objects made for Europeans reflected these spiritual ideas. Likewise, the king used the scepter as a sign of statu s and to connect himself to the spiritual world. In addition to his political role, the king also presented himself as a connection to 35 Pereira, Mario. African Art at the Portugeuse Court 86,108. 36 MacGaffey, W Pfemba, Treasures from the Africa Museum, Tervuren Edited by Gustaaf Verswijver. (Tervuren: Royal Museum for Central Africa, 1995), 289 290; Martin, Phyllis. Catholic Women of Congo Brazzaville: Mothers and Sisters in Troubled Times (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009), 25 31. 37 Tervuren Mu 26 38 Many have discussed the how the Kongo initially understood th e Portuguese as MacGaffey, Wyatt. Religion and Society in Central Africa; Pereira, Mario. African Art at the Portuguese Court.
50 the world of the dead. One of his titles is "Matombola," the one "who summons the dead." 39 olize this connection. For example, his capital, Pemba [later called Mbanza Kongo], is high on a hill at the height of the world a literal and symbolic cosmic center. This physical closeness to the cosmos is additionally supported by the mnemonic name, Pem ba referring to mpemba, a Kongo word used in reference to the land of the spirits. 40 The color white also signals the association with the spirit world. 41 Thus, the angular, repetitive forms that reference Kongo cosmologies affirm these assertions of spiritu al power from the King. Like the scepter, the spiritual connection of th comple ments the status of those allowed wear and use the textiles. Only the k ing and his nobles could wear or use the cloth. These people were also highly co nnected to the spiritual world as they could interact with the ancestors. Thus the geometric designs affirm this connection and also signal prestige. The discussion of early textiles and status would be incomplete without mentioning Kongo raffia royal ha ts, mpu (Figure 3 13) which are also embellished with embroidery and pile techniques, and covered with similar repeating geometric patterns T hey had similar restrictions defining those who could wear them. E arly travelers drawings show Kongo rulers wea ring these caps F urthermore mpu are often depicted on the chiefs ntadi grave sculptures. In addition to this symbol of status, MacGaffey also states that the mpu have a ritual role in the investiture ceremonies for new chiefs 39 MacGaffey, Wyatt. Religion and Society in Centr al Africa 195 40 379. 41 Pereira, Mario. African Art at the Portuguese Court, 107
51 in which the mpu is featur ed as a type of nkisi ensuring the power of the chief. 42 The visual qualities of mpu also relate to a spiritual purpose. Mpu are woven using a difficult process spiraling technique, in which the raffia threads form a helix down the entire form of the cap. 43 The Kikongo word for spiral, zinga, corresponds to ideas of longevity, and the spiral form relates to the snake, an animal often associated with spirits. 44 Therefore, this raffia hat serves a similar function and illustrates similar themes to the early text iles. The earliest textile examples serve as an ideal case study for the connection between Kongo design and the meaning of the textiles Textiles are indicators of status and, at the same time, r eference Kongo cosmologies. The comparison of the 16 th and 17 th century textiles and 20 th century mats reveals that mats and textiles had similar purposes and both assist connection to spirituality. To explain the significance of the mats, one must first understand that they were used in funerary contexts. The us e of mats in funerals has a long history in the Kongo. European accounts that describe wrapping bodies in mats date as far back as the late 17 th century. 45 As a transitory period for the deceased, funerals created close contact between the living and spirit ual worlds. The mats were used to wrap the bodies of high 42 MacGaffey, Wyatt. Religion and Society in Central Africa, 148 151. 43 sta anthropology and aesthetics. 5 (1983), 75 44 Blier, Suzanne Preston. The Royal Arts of Africa: The Majesty of Form (Perspectives. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1998), 214. 45 De Rome, Hean Franois. La Fondation de la mission des Capuchins au Royaume de C ongo (1648).
52 ranking individuals. 46 The entire bundle would then be buried and the spirit of the deceased would enter the realm of the spirits. 47 Since funerals are a time of spiritual power and connection to the world of the dead, the visual representations on the mats, like the iconography of their earlier counterparts, can be used to explain and understand Kongo cosmological beliefs. In two separate discussions of funerary mats, both Coppe and Mantuba Ngoma de scribe similar visually complicated mats that have funerary significance. 48 The image and Mantuba Ngoma only provides a drawing A nd neither mat is illu strated in the Coart catalog (Figure 3 14). But, both mats are identi fied as Yombe, and they look similar to a mat illustrat 15). Coppe explains that the mat depicts a funeral mourning ceremony ( Mvumbi ku leuna ) in which the wives of the dead cry over the body while small gongs ring out 49 Boxe s at the center represent the body of the deceased. The red squares on the white background (near the edge of the image) are the wives. Coppe notes that on other mats the women are drawn as red lozenges on a white background. 50 The dots in the center of th e lozenges indicate the wives are crying. Mantuba Ngoma describes the 46 47 MacGaffey, Wyatt. Religion and Society in Central Africa 1, 55 48 Brousse 9 (195 6): 25 26; Mantuba Ngoma, Mabiala. Frauen, Kunsthandwerk und Kultur bei den Yombe in Zare Gttingen: Edition Re, 1989. 49 La Brousse. La Brousse 9. (1959), 25 26; Man tuba Ngoma, Mabiala. Frauen, Kunsthandwerk und Kultur bei den Yombe in Zare (Gttingen: Edition Re, 1989), 290 291. 50 25
53 swastikas on the right and left of the coffin as representing the deceased sisters. The bottles are a reference to the ritual in which the wives fill bottles with water to honor the dead during mourning. While t his task demonstrates love for their husband t he bottles also signal that the deceased was wealthy. 51 Using Coppe and Mantuba interpretations of funerary mats, it is possible to begin to interpret an ex ample from Tervure n. The mat with the most varied figurative representations looks very similar to those Cop pe and Mantuba Ngoma describe (Figure 3 15). This presumably represents a funerary rite in which the body has been placed in a coffin. The coffin takes the form of a large niombo mummy bundle (Figure 3 16). The coffin has the same interlocked cross pattern in the center depicting the presence of the body. The whole coffin assemblage seems to be carried by the two figures connected to it via lines. The number of atten dants and the swastikas surrounding the form indicate that deceased must have been a very important person. The various gestures of these figures indicate mourning. The clasping of the hands over the head indicates extreme mourning (as opposed to simply gr asping behind the neck that indicates only regular mourning.) 52 One hand raised and one hand pointing to the ground signals a connection to the spirit world. 53 Additionally, two squares with dots in the center o ver the shoulders of the coffin indicate cryin g people, most likely 51 Kongo Across the Waters. (Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, forthcoming) 52 Laman, K. E. The Kongo ., vol. I, (Upsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 1953), 43 44. Thompson, Robert Farris. African Art in Motion: Icon and Act (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1974), 73 ; MacGaffey, Wyatt. 86. 53 Thompson, Robert Farris., "Kongo Civilization," 63 64
54 representing the wives One must also note the appearance of the inverted figures. These could reference simbi spirits, below the kalunga line. The bottle motif ap pears again and again (Figure 3 17). This motif could relate to the fu n erary rites as mentioned before, acting as a way to honor the dead. However, bottles also served other functions in Kongo funerals. Bottles could be containers to store sprits and were often placed on graves. Additionally, objects, such as gin bottles, se rved to show the connection with European luxury goods and the affluence of the deceased. Bottles were often left on graves to honor the deceased. 54 The depiction of bottles shows this important connection to the spiritual world but also recognize status an d wealth. The use of figur es throughout the examples shows the various poses of mourning and grief (Figure 3 18). Recall that the hands over the head gesture signals intense grieving. Additionally, the gesture with one arm up and one arm down signals that the figure has a certain acceptance of the events, and a willingness to complete the necessary rituals and rites. 55 In addition, this gesture transforms the figure into a cosmogram. The figure has one hand in the spirit world and one in the living world th e body has become a meeting place for the two realms. 56 These grieving poses are appropriate for use on these important funerary objects. 54 MacGaffey, Wyatt. in R.F. Thompson and J. Cornet, The Four Moments of the Sun: Kongo Arts In Two Worlds exhibition catalog, (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1981), 179 180 55 Thompson, Robert Farris. "Kongo Civilization," 39. 56 Thompson, Robert Farr is. "Kongo Civilization," 64 64.
55 The animals depicted on the mats relate to the status and personality of the deceased. The associati on with status is mainly achieved through the proverbs told about each animal. Mantuba collecting of such proverbs. 57 The lizard is fierce creature The lizard symbolizes happine ss through success but not in an ostentatious manner. For t his reason, the lizard is also found on architectural dcor of meeting places to remind attendees of their happiness and success but not to be conceded. These first two examples are difficult to connect to Kongo spiritual beliefs, and they may simply pay h qualities. However, the final example, the leopard is associated with many aspects of status. Mantuba Ngoma documents keep serving his people or they will wander awa y or act against him, just as when the leopard ran away, wildcats took over and the hens cackled at him. 58 But, the leopard is also an animal that can be touched in the spirit world. leopards : h eaddresses with leopard claws, depic leopard pelt, carved ivory pendant s showing leopard claws, etc. (Figure 3 19) The All of the figurative examples incorporate geo metric patterning Figures are decorated with interloc king grid patterns and lozenges and squares act as borders and fill in the negative space surrounding the figures. 59 Not only do these designs give the 57 Mantuba Ngoma, Mabiala. Frauen, Kunsthandwerk und Kultur bei den Yombe in Zare 201 202 (lizard), 217 219 (lizard), 278 281 (leopard) 58 Mantuba Ngoma, Mabiala. Frauen, Kunsthandwerk und Kultur bei d en Yombe in Zare 279. 59 Thom 66.
56 mats a more interesting visual design, but they als o represent the ideas of Kongo spirituality. Like the older counterparts, these designs represent the ideas about the cosmos and the connections between the two worlds and would be useful in the funerary context. Conclusion This discussion of the roles of woven material both textiles and mats in Kongo society shows the continuing use of these objects as expressions of status, whether finely woven textiles or mats. The use of geometric forms demonstrates the persistence of a number of Kongo ideological beli efs. Thus, as shown through these continuations, the 20th century mats deserve attention in the discussion of Kongo textiles they were important parts of funerary practices. Kongolese velvet like textiles from the 16th and 17th centuries and funerary mats reveal a varying textile tradition that spans about 270 years (1650 1920). The continuity of designs reveals the persistence of Kongo philosophical and religious beliefs. While the figurative designs still relate to Kongo ideas of wealth, prestige, and spi rituality; however, as I will explain in the next chapter, this shift also shows the varying use of the textiles that result from European exchange and changing funerary practices
57 Figure 3 1. Embroidery Cloth with g eometric design (British Museum objec t number: Af,SLMisc.424) Figure 3 2. Pile t echnique: d etail of m pu Royal Museum for Central Africa, EO.0.0.17797
58 Figure 3 3. Raffia m at, Coart plate 33 Royal Museum for Central Africa EO.0.29236 Figure 3 4 Stepped pattern, Coart. Vannerie e t T issage 22
59 A B Figure 3 5. Warp and w eft manipulation, In Coart, Les Nattes Royal Museum for Central Africa Tervuren, Belgium. A) pl ate 35, EO.0.29232 B) pl ate 43 EO.0.29223
60 A B C D Figure 3 6. Kongo Mat with f igurative i magery in Coart, Les Nattes Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren Belgium. A) a ntelope, plate 55, EO.0.29258 B) l izard plate 56, EO.0.29091 C) l eopard, plate 55, EO.0.29259 D) h uman figures, plate 57, EO.0.29084 E) b ottles, plate 57, EO.0.29088
61 E Figure 3 6. Continued Figure 3 7. Geometric M at, Coart Les Nattes, pl ate 34, Royal Museum for Central Africa Tervuren, Belgium EO.0.29115
62 A B Figure 3 8. Figurative mats. Royal Museum for Central Africa Tervuren, Belgium. A) EO 1948.27.44, B) EO.0.0.40018 Figure 3 9. Female f igure with c hild (detail) Royal M useum for Central Africa Tervuren, Belgium, EO.0.0.24662
63 Figure 3 10. s carification, photograph in archives CICM at KADOC, Leuven, early 20th century A B Figure 3 1 1. Ivory h orn Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium. MO 1967.83.802 A) full figure. B) Detail
64 A B C Figure 3 2 2. Ivory s cepter, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium. EO.1979.1.260 A) full object. B) Detail 1. C) Detail 2 Figure 3 13. Mpu, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium, EO.0.0.17797
65 A B Figure 3 14. Funerary scenes A) from Copp e Mantuba Ngoma, Frauen, Kuntshandwerk, 292 Figure 3 15. Mat with f unerary s cene, Coart Les Nattes, pl ate 50 Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium EO.0.29227
66 Figure 3 16. Niombo m ummy b undle, early 20th century Royal Museum for Central Africa Teruvren, Belgium. AP.0.2.13219 A B C Fig ure 3 17. Mat details: b ottles Coart Les Nattes. Royal Museum for Central Africa Tervuren, Belgium A) pl ate 55, EO.0.29259 B) pl ate 52, EO.29225 C) pl ate 57, EO.0.29088
67 A B C D Figure 3 18. Mat details: h uman figures on mats (details). In Coart Les Nattes A) pla te 57 B) plate 57 C) plate 56 D) plate 50
68 A B C Figure 3 19. Images of leopard objects in Kongo art. A) Cap, Royal Museum For Central Africa, Teruvren, Belgium EO.1948.27.45. B) King of Loango, from Dapper (1668) (available in public domain). C) Ivory Pendant, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium, E.O.0.0.7349 1
69 CHAPTER 4 CHANGING TRADE PATTERNS AND MAT DESIGN This chapter examines two aspects of the comparison between 16 th /17 th century velvet like textiles and 20 th century raffia mats. I will first exa mine the factors that lead Europeans to collect raffia mats. Such mats had been produced long before they appeared in European collections. By the late 17 th and early 18 th centuries, the production of velvet like textiles had begun to decline. A variety of factors, from t he introduction of imported European cloth to the collapse of Kongo trade networks greatly contributed to the decline in the production of velvet like textiles Although the production of velvet textiles eventually ceased, raffia textiles s till served as status indicators and raffia mats began to have a new prominence in funerary practices. The status of the deceased was related directly to the number of mats and textiles buried with him. The use of raffia mats in funerals fueled the continu ed production of mats and their subsequent collection by Europeans. Understanding the role of raffia mats in the 20 th century provides a basis for discussing the second portion of this chapter. Raffia mats collected in the late 19 th and early 20 th century include the introduction of figurative patterns, patterns not previously seen on the earlier velvet like textiles. Explaining this shift involves combining the role of mats in funerary practices with a recollection of the discussion of the significance of figurative motifs and consideration of the effects European contact and artistic innovation had on their production.
70 Roles of Raffia Textiles: the Decline of Velvet Textiles The Kongo velvet textiles produced in the 16 th and 17 th centuries impressed Europ ean visitors and collectors alike. Production had halted by the late 19 th century. 1 With the velvet textiles no longer an option raffia mats introduced to European collections. The earliest examples that I have discovered in the course of this project are from the Museum Volenkunde and date to 1885. 2 Undoubtedly, raffia mats were in accounts mention mats and drawings depict them in use. (figure 1 1, 4 1 4 3 ) 1687 d escription of Mbanza Kongo includes that description that interior walls were decorated with woven straw tapestries. 3 Mats must have permeated the kingdom due to their usefulness as ground coverings. Early drawings show s ick people lyin g on mats during healing rituals, as ground coverings in shrines, and at the feet of king s. 4 1) shows a Kongo King in his full majesty; he is seated upon a throne surrounded with his court. The mats appear here under the 1 This date is roughly calculated from waning collection of the textiles. Europeans were completely enamored with the textiles, and it is my assumption that their collection would have not simply stopped. T he lack of later examples in museum collections hints that production had stopped by this time. 2 Museum Volenkunde collection database: http://www.volkenkunde.nl/collections/ example objects numbers: 337 80, 337 82 3 Sinclair. The Development of Urbanism from a Global Perspective Uppsala University, Sweden 2002), 8. 4 La route du Tchad: du Loango au Chari (Paris: Librairie de Firmin Didot ,1893): 61; Dennett, Richard Edward. Sev en Years among the Fjort, Being an English Trader's Experience in the Congo District. (London : S. Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, 1887): facing 56; Giovanni Antonio Istorica Desc rizione de' Tre Regni Congo, Matamba, et Angola (Milan, 1690): 437.
71 thron e. This print is especially interesting because it also includes an example of a Cavazzi (figure 4 1) image also shows a royal court. The Queen Nzinga, who is interestingly using person as a b ench, is seated upon a mat to meet with a Portuguese delegation. The final images from Dennett (1887) and Dybowski (1893) (figures 4 2 and 4 3 ) both show mats used in a ritual context, where they are function as a ground covering for individuals involved i n the ceremony. However, in spite of this existence, mats do not appear in European collections in that early period, apparently their velvet counterparts overshadowed them in capturing the attention of European visitors who collected examples of material and visual culture. From the late 19 th to the mid 20 th century however, raffia mats were only collected for a short period This accounts for the limited availability of examples in museum collections. With the introduction of European cloth, the producti on of velvet textiles declined. The disappearance of those textiles created a situation in which Europeans began to collect mats to be placed in collections of material culture. The main reason for the reduced production of velvet textiles appears to be th e introduction of European textiles. push velvet textiles out of their overall place as prestige objects. One of the avenues through which European textiles entered t he Kongo was via diplomatic exchanges. Beginning in the 15 th century, fine European damasks and brocades were introduced to the Kongo. 5 5 Pereira Mario. 100, 150
72 In addition to being given as gifts and signs of goodwill, the adoption of European clothing and dress also acted as an avenue to accomplish political aims. Beginning in the 15 th century, Kongo kings made changes to better align themselves with European ideas of sovereignty including adoption of European modes of dress. 6 The Portuguese also provided European clothing for Kongolese visiting Europe. Returning to Kongo, their clothing communicated meaningful political messages. For example, in 1483, a Portuguese expedition took a group of Kongo hostages. Members of this group were of the Miwissikongo noble class. Upon disco vering the status of these captives, the Portuguese treated them with the same respect and care that would be given to an official delegation. They were dressed in the finest styles of the Portuguese court and were educated in the ways of Christianity. Tre ated not as captives, they were honored guests in the Portuguese court. In 1485, the captives returned to Kongo, where they were received with enthusiasm. 7 On their return, they presented the Kongo king with fine gifts, including European textiles. Their e xample showed the new styles of dress and allowed for a further adoption of European textiles among the wealthy Kongo court. The newly introduced European fabrics were incorporated immediately into Kongo royal regalia. A 1491 account of the Kongo king desc ribes him as dressed in traditional 6 Pereira Mario. 95. 7 Pereira Mario. 98 103. These captives were received with respect not only because of their dress, but also because they had been presumed dead. Just like the Kongo viewed the first Portuguese visitors as simbi spirits from the land of the dead, these returned captives w Their European clothing associated them with these spiritual beliefs about the Europeans.
73 Kongo garb an mpu cap, a horse tail fly whisk, and an ivory bracelet; but he is covered at the waist by a European damask that the Portuguese king had sent him. 8 European textiles entering into the Kongo court gained po sition as new status objects. The cloths could not be produced in the Kongo, and could only be obtained through interaction with Europeans; therefore, it was a rare commodity. In addition to the rarity of the cloth, European cloths lasted as much as three times longer than their raffia counterparts. 9 The prestige that came with European contact and trade and the rising use of European cloth among Kongo royalty meant that European cloth slowly began to overshadow the use of raffia materials. By the late 18 th and 19 th centuries, the availability of cheap textiles from Europe and India rose, giving the broader Kongo population access to imported textiles. 10 The civil wars of the late 17 th century greatly contributed to the decline of velvet textile production, as well as because of the collapse of trade networks through which raw materials and finished textiles traveled. 11 Consequently, only those in raffia producing areas continued to make and use raffia textiles, but these cloths were plain. None of the techniq ues for producing the finest velvet like examples were preserved. 12 8 Pina, Rui de. Crnica de D. Joo II edited by Lus de Albuquerque, Lisbon: Publicaes 146. 9 Vansina, Jan. 10 Ibid. 272. 11 Ibid. 272. 12 Ibid. 272 273
74 With the demise of the Kingdom in the late 17 th centu ry, royal commissions ceased; however, commissions by the lesser Kongo nobles kept the production of fine, velvet raffia textiles alive even after the royal demand had declined. 13 Raffia cloth production waned slowly. In addition to the fine textiles, raffia cloth continued to be used in other sections of Kongo society. Plain raffia textiles continued for a longer period of time than the v elvet examples. Those of the lower classes and inland people continued to wear plain raffia. The Kongo region also continued to supply Europeans with raffia currency cloth to fuel European interactions with other Africans. 14 Raffia cloth continued to be use d as a form of currency until 1693. 15 Even though the cloth itself was no longer in use for currency, into the 19 th century, merchants still discussed the value of objects in terms of the numbers of raffia cloth exchange. 16 Roles of Raffia Textiles: Mats as Status Symbols and Spiritual markers The shift to favoring European over raffia cloth does not mean that raffia products completely lost their prestigious roles in Kongo society. Although Kongo kings no longer wore the cloth, they still kept regulations i n place concerning who could produce, own, and wear raffia textiles. 17 Kings continued to stockpile textiles, mats and other raffia 13 14 Civil Rights Journal 6.1 (2002): 38. 15 16 17
75 products in their treasuries. 18 Additionally, even though raffia cloth was not worn, until the 20th century the exchange of ra ffia textiles remained a common expression of friendship, respect, status and prosperity 19 The most vivid evidence of the use and importance of raffia is its continued importance of raffia mats in funerary and burial practices. The process of wrapping the was not a new development for the Kongo. In 1648, Capuchin missionaries described funerary practices in which an individual was covered with several layers of mats. 20 A nother account from 1786 describes the long process of accumulating mats and wrapping the body of the deceased to form a massive bundle. The more mats used in this process, the greater the prestige of the deceased. Such a bundle, Degrandpr claims, could b e so large that it required 500 men to pull it on a cart to the burial site five miles away. 21 this bundle. 22 (figure 4.4 ) An 1886 report speaks of an individual being wrapped in up t o 400 yards of cloth to create a cylindrical bale. The body wrapping continues, the account explains materials. In addition to the materials that the estate buys, the village people may also co ntribute wrappings. The finished bale would then be a part of a lavish ceremony for 18 19 9. 20 De Rome, Hean Franois. La Fondation de la mission des Capuchins au Royaume de Congo (1648). Quoted in Thompson, Robert Far 21 6 22
76 burial. 23 Some of these accounts include mention that imported cloth was also used in the wrapping process; however, the raffia cloth was always present. The amount of clo th necessary to create these large bales signaled the status of the deceased. Synthesizing observations from a long journey through the Kongo Weeks spectacular funeral. Th e larger the funeral, the better the reception of the deceased into the spirit land. 24 Weeks describes a funeral he attended in 1882 at which the village and friends were invited to bring gifts of cloth both to help wrap the body and to help pay for funeral expenses. 25 By this time, it is likely that the decorated velvet cloths had mostly ceased to be made. However, such gifts may have included plain weave raffia cloth and/or funerary mats. This practi ce evolved and became most well known among the Bembe pe ople, who created large niombo mummy bundles in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The body of nobles were wrapped in layers of raffia mats, and finally covered in an imported, European red flannel. The entire bundle took the shape of a body in the symboli c pose with one arm extended upward and the other downward, suggestive of the cosmogram that links the world of the living with the world of the dead. The entire bundle was painted and embroidered in the likeness of the ruler, or adorned with ritual symbol s. The combined use of raffia mats and imported European flannel in the niombo shows the new importance of both types of cloth in Kongo society. The outward flannel material 23 Science 8, 197 (1886), 441 24 Folklore 19.4 (1908), 421 25 430
77 proclaims the importance of new ideas that develop over time in response to Europe an trade, European materials, and change in Kongo cultures. The new role of imported material and the importance of success/status that maybe gained from trade was a central theme. 26 Raffia mats, however, suggest the historical use of raffia products to sig nal prestige and status. 27 The discussion of the role of European textiles as indicators of status only addresses economic and social value. It is important to remember as well the spiritual role that textiles played in Kongo society. My discussion of the motifs on textiles and mats in chapter 3 demonstrates the continued depiction of and the patterns are consistent with those on the velvet textiles and correspond to religi ous ideas such as the cosmogram. Thus, these mats signal more than prestige; they are examples that continue to show Kongo ideas in the spirit world. The materials used to create niombo had religious connotations. Kongos believed that spirits created impo rted European cloth. This was perhaps conceivable because the Kongo initially saw the Europeans to be simbi spirits. The cloth that Europeans brought them must have been woven by the spirits and must also have 26 27 The idea of the mats evoking or recalling the history triggers a question of a possible connection to the whole histor y and therefore ancestors and past kingdom. For example, Kuba barkcloth is not used in everyday, but it references ancestors. It is used to decorate the Ngwadi a moosh mask an ancestor mask. However, I do not view that the mats functioned in this manner. Y es, they reference Kongo spiritual ideas, but I do not think that it is possible to assert that they function as a representative of the entire Kongo history.
78 spiritual power. 28 In addition to assuming the cloth was carried by such European simbi spirits, the Kongo could also not fathom either the processes or manpower necessary to produce the mass quantities of cloth imported to the Kongo by Europeans. Thus, they believed that spirits must have produced su ch materials. 29 Apart from being produced by the spirits, the color of the cloth also connected to Kongo beliefs. The color red indicates transition. Red is the color of dawn/dusk, and it is associated with the connection between the living world and that o f the dead. 30 The body inside the bundle is wrapped with raffia mats. The raffia material itself has less of an inherent spiritual connection; however, the designs incorporated into the mats are what signal its spiritual importance. The Introduction of Fig urative Motifs The comparison between the velvet like textiles and the mats reveals similar functions in that both serve as status symbols and each can be contrived as a demonstration of religious belief. However, while the mats introduce figurative imager y the velvet like counterparts are strictly geometric. It is important, nonetheless, to note that figurative imagery has a long history in other Kongo arts long before it was incorporated as iconography in mats. Examples of figurative images include: stone grave sculptures ( mintadi ), wooden grave figures ( bitemba ) maternity sculptures 28 Changing Perceptions of wealth among the ba mboma. Edited by Phyllis Martin. (Bloomington, IN: African Studies Program, Indiana University, 1990) 5. 29 30 MacGaffey, Wyatt. Kongo Political Culture: The Conceptual Challenge of the Particular. (Bloomington, IN: Indiana U niversity Press, 2000), 85; Young, Jason R. Rituals of Resistance: African Atlantic Religion in Kongo and the Lowcountry South in the Era of Slavery. (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press: 2007), 61.
79 ( phemba ), scepters, masks, and certain minkisi Like the figuration on the mats, these figures also relate to status or had religious uses. Even though figures were depicted i n other media, velvet textiles and the earlier mats were all are strictly geometric in design. consumption, and the opportunities for weavers to make innovation s. In considering why this change from geometric patterns to figuration came about, I have attempted to understand how Christianity could have made an impact on the introduction of such figuration. Modifications in burial practices were a mong the many chan ges that t ook place in Kongo culture with the adoption of Christian elements. The shift in these practices and the adoption of Christianity suggests that the use of the geometric patterns that represent the Kongo cosmogram was no longer necessary. At the s ame time, new figurative iconography, like that of the crucifix, had both Kongo and Christian interpretations. However, these arguments fall short because burial practices continued to be very connected to pre Christian Kongo beliefs and had little to do w ith Christianity. Ceremonies that involve calling to the ancestors via drums and trumpets were intended to pave a smooth transition into the spiritual world. 31 Thus, it is difficult to construct a dual reading of figuration as the result of practicing Chris tianity. Additionally, one cannot explain why figuration replaced geometric patterns because the creation of mats with geometric patterns did not cease with the introduction of figuration. Both geometric and figurative designs continue throughout the twent ieth century. The introduction of figuration expanded the range of designs possible for mats, but it did not eliminate the use of geometric patterns. Explanations for the introduction of the figures, 31 76.
80 nographies, their role in society, and consideration of the possibilities of artistic innovation. The introduction of figurative motifs in mats did not disrupt the previous representational system whatsoever. The prestigious raffia material remains the sa me, although less fine. The mats continue to serve as markers of status. The motifs, like geometric patterns, still relate ideas of both spirituality and prestige. Each image relates to status and to funerary practices. The question then becomes why and ho w the figures were introduced into a medium in which they had previously not been present. This explanation lies perhaps in the social context in which they function. The connection between raffia and status made raffia products covetable objects. Through out the late 19th and early 20th centuries, raffia mats were available to a larger and broader audience. Wishing to show status in the context of funerals, more and more people began to purchase raffia mats for funerals of their esteemed loved ones. Althou gh they did not create the large bundles that previously figured in the funerals of nobles, the use of raffia mats in burial practices was not reserved for leaders alone. Raffia mats became an essential to Kongo identity and tradition. In the 19th and int o the 20th centuries, opportunities for European trade had created a rising upper class throughout Kongo. Traders desired to demonstrate their new wealth through the commissioning of art objects. 32 In one study of the costal Boma region, Scrag notes conspic uous consumption habits among the new nobility. Traders spent their acquired wealth on objects that clearly showed their status, and this included 32
81 cloth. 33 In addition to amassing objects, the most opulent display of wealth one could make was in the context of lavish funerals, burials, and gravesite decoration. Funerals could be delayed for years while the heirs amassed the amount of cloth to wrap the body. 34 Although Scrag focuses on the collection of European cloth in the Boma region, the continued use of r affia mats in the niombo mummy bundles of the Bembe people (farther north) and the suggests that raffia mats remained important in the context of burials. A 1912 field photograph of a Yombe grave shows this continued importance of raffia textiles. (figure 4 5 ). This photograph reveals a woven mat in the left rear of the grave structure and a European textile hangs near the front to the right. The last niombo burial, which incorporated many mats and textiles in the mummy bundles, took place in 1932. 35 By 196 0s, MacGaffey notes, the practice of providing any type of cloth for funerals, in Lower Congo, had given way to gifts of money. 36 Nonetheless, the production of mats and the introduction of figuration flourished in this period from the late 19th into the mi d 20th century. assert its material power provided an opportunity for artists experiment in innovative ways. Although missionary, ethnography, and other accounts among others do not 33 Schrag, Norman. 1990. Changing Perceptions of Wealth Among the Bamboma. Edited by Phyllis Martin. Bloomington, IN: African Studies Program, Indiana University, 1990: 3 34 Schrag, Norman. Changing Perceptions of Wealth 21 22 35 Jacobson Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology. 45, 3 4 (1980), 202 36 MacGaffey, Wyatt. Custom and Government in the Lower Congo. (Berkley: University of Calif ornia Press: 1970). 163.
82 mention mat production, an examination of artistic innovation in other Kongo media, one can begin to make assumptions concerning the figurative motifs on the mats. In describing the changing material culture in Boma, Scrag notes more elaborate bracele ts, anklets, drums and staffs. 37 Artists competed for commissions and continued to make a number of artistic innovations. 38 The identification of different masters and recognizing their works has assisted scholars in identifying such innovations. The ability to identify a group of objects as belonging to one artist (or at least workshop) allows scholars to compare a small group of objects with those in the larger body. These comparisons reveal trends and changes and can act as an argument for the development of certain styles. Kongo masters have mostly been identified in the creation of wooden sculpture. One such master, the Master of Kasadi has been identified as the creator of several phemba figures, a number of masks, and wooden sculptures used for commemo rative purposes. The Master of Kasadi is particularly notable for his innovative kneeling phemba figures in which the pose shows a combination between Kongo influence (the phemba itself) and the pose. 39 These slight shifts in poses do not necessary change t he overall purpose of the figure, but instead show innovation and creativity expanding the range of expression. Another innovation that occurred with the rise of artistic demand is in the area of grave sculpture. Previously, stone grave sculptures ( mintad i ) were reserved for the 37 Schrag, Norman. Changing Perceptions of Wealth 15. 38 Schrag, Norman. Changing Perceptions of Wealth 25. 39 Mains de Matres: la dcouverte des sculpteurs Editied by Bernarnd de Grunne. ( Brussels: Espace Culturel BBL, 2001.) 168 169.
83 leaders of communities. These sculptures have tranquil poses. One ntadi pose shows the figure with one elbow upon his knee and hand cradling his head suggesting a pose of sadne ss or contemplation. (figure 4 6 ) This pose shows the leader contemplating his responsibility now in the role of an ancestor for the future well being of his people. 40 However, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the practice of grave decoration extended beyond those created for leaders, and c emeteries became a repository of many forms including sculpture indicating the wealth amassed by traders. 41 Newer figures are often seated in an erect position on a chair or stool of some sort, both feet firmly planted on the ground, often holding status ob jects, such as glass bottles that were obt ained t hrough trade. (figure 4 7 ) The figures are often dressed in European fashions instead of Kongo prestige clothing ( mpu hat, raffia wrapper, or scarifications). Like the mintadi, these figures would be placed on graves, but it is my belief that these figures had a different spiritual importance. Unlike the chiefs, these merchants and traders were not as integrally connected to the well being of later generations. Thus their poses and clothing no longer needed t o relate directly to spirit concerns. Of course, the presence of the figures on graves still signals the importance of funerary and burial practices, but the window into the spirit world is no longer as evident. The figures, instead, become more of a decla ration of status and wealth, as well as commemoration. The change in grave sculpture can viewed as a phenomenon parallel to what was concurrently happening with the introduction of figurative imagery in the production of mats. 40 129. 41 Scrag, Norman. Changing Perceptions of Wealth 20.
84 Figuration appeared in the ma ts because the demand from the newly wealthy class that fueled the opportunity for artistic innovation. Raffia continued to play a role in Kongo society as an indicator of status. Until the mid 20th century, it was still a key material used for wrapping bo dies for burial. The rise of new wealth created a different set of consumers purchasing the raffia mats. Raffia mats were primarily used to show the status of the deceased and these associations were more individual. Like the difference between the m in tadi figures for leaders and for later patrons, the mats no longer needed to strictly reflect complex ideas of the supernatural. Therefore, this new audience gave weavers the opportunity to experiment with imagery and to be innovative in creating decorations t hat did not rely solely on past tradition. Thus, figures that alluded to status such as the leopard, appear on the mats. However, the appearance of the bottles and other figures key to funerary ceremonies shows that artists (and their patrons) were also co and their spirit related importance, played a key role in the display of wealth. An 1890 account states Contradictory as it may seem, the strong incentive among people to industry, to trave l and to trade, is not so much to procure the money with which to buy food (their wives can supply that), but to hoard enough cloth ... for a grand funeral that will be the talk of the district; for they believe that the grander their funeral, the better w ill be their reception in the spirit land... 42 The continuation of the geometric patterns suggests that the mats still related to Kongo cosmological beliefs, but at the same time the introduction of the figures relate strongly to the need for more objects to demonstrate wealth and status. 42
85 Figure 4 1 Tre Regni Congo, Matamba, et Angola (Milan, 1690): 437. Figure 4 2 Being an English Trader's Experience in the Congo District. (London : S. Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, 1887): facing 56 (available in public domain)
86 Figure 4 3 (Paris: Librairie de Firmin Didot ,1893): 61 9 (available in public domain) Figure 4 4 Early mummy bundle practice (ca 1787) From: Degrandpr, L. Voyage la (available in public domain)
87 Figure 4 5 1912 Yombe Grave with raffia ma t a nd European textile. Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium, AP.0.0.5111 Figure 4.6 N tadi figure, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium EO 1955.45.6 Figure 4 7 W ooden grave sculpture, Collection of Marc Felix
88 CHAPTER 5 CONCLUSION Raffia textiles have played a role in Kongo culture for at least 500 years. Kongo velvet textiles impressed and amazed European explorers and collectors. Velvet textiles, dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries, are in many European collect ions, where they serve as fine examples of the excellent weaving tradition the fine workmanship and design. Raffia mats, however were not deemed worth y and were excluded from European collections until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At that time, t he production of velvet textiles had ceased, and raffia mats began to rise in importance, especially in the context of Kongo funeral ceremonies. At the same time, producers of mats introduced figurative designs, in addition to continuing the production of mats with strictly geometric patterns observed on the velvet textiles. Analysis of the roles of the velvet textiles and the mats within Kongo society The arts are integrally tied to Kongo philosophy, religious practice and belief, and the resulting cosmology of the Kongo peoples. The textile and mat geometric designs are manifestations of such beliefs. At the same time, the raffia material may carry or ideas of prestige. Howe ver, leaders are tied to the spiritual framework as connectors between the spirit world and the world of the living. Thus, these raffia products play dual, but connected, roles in 20th century Kongo culture. They, at the same time, reflect cosmological bel ief s and project the status of the deceased. When the creation of raffia mats add figurative designs alongside the geometric patterns, inherited from the past questions may be raised concerning Kongo religious beliefs and practices and the role of raffia a s an indicator of status.
89 Examining the shift in formal qualities and function between the velvet textiles and the later mats situates raffia textiles within larger dialogues of Kongo culture. In the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries, the history of trade and the rise of imported European objects affected with the production and use of raffia textiles as indicators of prestige. Although Kings and nobles no longer regularly used raffia products as indicators of status and prestige raffia remained an i ndicator of status in the context of burials. The rise of a newly wealthy and powerful class of merchants and traders meant that the demand for raffia mats increased. This widened market and economic opportunity allowed artists to be more innovative in des ign. By the end of the 20th century, the use of raffia mats in funerary ceremonies had dropped considerably. However, the burst of creative energy and innovation brought about by trade and the resulting booming economy also encouraged a short period of in tense demand for funerary mats the use of raffia mats as a medium of expression. continued in later mats dating to the 1950s. These later examples display hunting scenes One mat may be interpreted as a man on a bicycle or a rail way cart (figure 3 8). My own research into Kongo practices has not yet revealed any sources that suggest the continuing use of raffia mats in the funerary context. The use of the mats as an artis tic medium is perhaps an interesting project for additional investigation and for future studies. This study of the change of the mats over time becomes important for Kongo art because of the fact that it emphasizes that styles transformed. They were not s tatic. From the shift in textiles from fine, expensive, elaborately embellished textiles to rough
90 woven mats, raffia arts in the Kongo have made significant changes over time. Congo artists made distinct choices to show certain themes but to exclude others This is in By r evealing the story of changes augments this view becomes complicated One must understand that artists have, and will continue to reinterpret th e arts to fit new situations, new needs, and new contexts. The story of artistic change in the mats during the 19 th and 20 th centuries is especially potent when considering the greater context of the time From 1885 to 1908, this region fell within King L The Free State became a horrific example of the exploitation and brutality of colonialism. With high taxes and labor requirements, the Congo people suffered greatly. It was from this period that the atroci ous photos of officials cutti ng off the hands of individuals or family members of individuals who could not meet their quotas. And yet, under these oppressive situations, Congo people were still able to purchase raffia mats for use in funerals.
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98 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Carlee Forbes was born and grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She received her undergraduate degrees in h istory and arts and humanities in 2011 from Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. Go, Spartans! She received her M.A. degree from the University of Florida in the spring of 2013 While at UF, Carlee interned with the Samuel P Harn Museum of Ar t.