A Batetela Image

By: H. U. H.

Originally Published in 1931

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THE wooden figurine of Plate VII, representing a seated female, was once the property of a medicine-man of the Sankuru District of the Belgian Congo. His people are known as the Batetela or Atetela.

Wood figurine of a squatting woman with her head in her hands, wearing a beaded belt and jewelry
Plate VII — A Batetela Wood Carving from the Belgian Congo
Museum Object Number: 30-55-1
Image Number: 798

The figurine is said to be a goddess of maternity. Probably it would be more correct to say that it is an oracle representing the goddess. Childless women resorted to the medicine-man with the request that he should induce the goddess to send them offspring. A fee was paid in kind-ducks, fowls, kids-and the medicine-man entered into a lengthy conversation with the image. Its reply was given (from his lips) in a high-pitched whistle, and the woman was dismissed with the assurance that a child would be born to her. If the assurance failed, the fault was the woman’s; she had been unfaithful to her husband.

In the meantime, the medicine-man had gone about to insure her unwitting infidelity by arranging to have her husband absent himself while another man visited her at night. So that she might not suspect the trick, she was charged not to speak to her visitor, lest she might recognize his voice in answer. If the goddess did not send a child in due time and the woman showed a disposition to question the sincerity or ability of the medicine-man, he had his counter-charge ready and a witness to her guilt.

The image wears a wig made of the hair of a pregnant woman. The small copper anklets are intended to avert diseases of pregnancy. The other ornaments have no special significance.

For the data from which these notes are taken, the Museum is indebted to Dr. J. N. White of Bastrop, Louisiana, the former owner of the figurine, who has lived with the Batetela and who obtained the image and its history from the medicine-man in question.


Cite This Article

H., H. U.. "A Batetela Image." Museum Bulletin II, no. 5 (March, 1931): 155-156. Accessed May 21, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/bulletin/719/

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