II. The Southern Congo: Interior
Between Lakes Tanganyika and Mweru in the east and the neighbourhood of the Kwango River in the west, the whole region traversed by the northward flowing affluents of the Kasai-the principal left tributary of the Congo—has been greatly influenced by the people known as Baluba. They or their kin founded the great Lunda empire in the west of this region, and other similar groupings of tribes were brought about by the conquering and organizing genius which enabled them to impose their rule upon the aboriginal tribes of a different stock among whom they came as leaders or conquerors. It was the same state of things as we have already noticed in the seaward region, where the intruders were very likely akin to the Baluba. In this region also we have a fine record of achievement in the woodcarver’s art, as it may be read in the productions of this kind in the country.
A second group of objects concerning which the Museum is without specific original information as to their provenience or use is treated under this head, since some of these objects certainly, and others probably, originated in this region.
To begin with those which cannot be certainly affirmed to have been produced there, or for which a different origin has been suggested:Figs. 14,15 are two views of a carefully finished figurine representing a bearded individual with a crested headdress seated on what appears to be a box. This carving is said by Mr.Joyce to be perhaps “the handiwork of some Baluba tribe.” His opinion is based on the nature of the raised design representing cicatrization, the so called scar tattooing, on the front of the body (Fig. 14). In the Annales, Ser. 3, Vol. I, Plate IX, Fig. 167, appears an Eastern Congo drum supported by the figure of a kneeling woman, on the front of whose body appears a design in scar tattooing which consists of the principal elements of the design shown in Fig. 14, though in a different arrangement. Essentially, the main design in the latter case consists of a lozenge or diamond the sides of which are produced at the top and bottom to form two pairs of conjoined chevrons. Flanking the figure thus formed at each side are three pairs of short parallel lines, placed at right angles to the long axis of the body. In the case of the female figure the lozenge appears isolated just below the bosom. Lower down, and centred about the navel, two chevrons opening upwards are separated by a short vertical rectangle, and balanced above by two rectangles comparable to the pairs of parallel lines in Fig. 14, placed horizontally close to the navel one on each side of it, and thus at right angles to the lower rectangle. The three rectangular figures, in other words, form a T, and this has a wide V placed on each side of the upright. The eyes of the statuette, which is about four feet high, are represented by an inlay of some white or light coloured material, ivory or porcelain; in this respect it resembles Fig. 14, the eyeballs of which are fragments of coarse white glazed earthenware.
This latter characteristic is not decisive as to locality, however; and neither is the nature of the cicatrization. The figure of a man illustrated in the Album of the Congo referred to in Part I of these Notes, Plate 214, Fig. 5, shows on the front of the body an imitation of a cicatrized design which contains the same elements—lozenges and chevrons—combined in a manner which in one important respect resembles the pattern shown in Fig. 14 more closely than that just described. There are two lozenges one above the other, and two sides of the lower are produced first downwards and then upwards so as to form two chevrons in precisely the same situation as in the lower part of the central combination, Fig. 14. Moreover the figure in the Album has a headdress with a high central crest like that of Fig. 14. It is said to have come from the “tribes between Brazzaville and Loaned,” that is from the maritime Congo region.
Neither of these two features, again, can be said to be decisive as to the origin of this figure. Crested headdresses have a wide distribution in Africa, and the lozenge plus chevron design, though other instances of it can be found in the maritime Congo—for another example almost identical with that last referred to from the Album, see Plate 213, Fig. 3, Boma district—is also found among the Bushongo on the Kasai1 in an almost identical form with that last described, and in different combinations further east, as, for example, in the scar tattooing of the statuette pictured here, Fig. 29. Of the Bambala between the Kwilu and the Kwango Rivers in the more northerly part of the region with which this article is especially concerned, we are told that the men’s cicatrization commonly consists of “a line more or less straight across the chest . . . and a lozenge pattern round the navel.”2 This might pass for a somewhat vague description of the scar tattoo of Fig. 14.
Even a feature which might at first appear distinctive—the continuity of the line of the hair over the forehead and temples with the simple curve of the ear—occurs in more than one locality. Figs. 468, 469, 476, 501, for example, in Series 3, Volume I of the Annales du Musée du Congo, from photographs of objects brought from Stanley Pool in the case of Fig. 468, from the Cataracts in the case of the others, show this characteristic. It might, however, easily occur in other regions on figures in which the conventional form of the ear and its position in relation to the line of the hair are such that the omission of an incised line or two would produce an almost identical appearance. This is the case, for instance, with the figure of a woman, seated in a similar posture, which appears as Fig. 575 in the volume just referred to. It is from the southeastern Congo, a region in which Baluba influence is strong.
On the whole it may be said that, but for such considerations and the weight of Mr. Joyce’s opinion, the general appearance of the figure and the style of its workmanship would incline one to assign it to the region of the objects of the first group.
The box which forms the seat of the figure has three holes, one at each end and one in the bottom. The last and one of the former are stopped with discs of what appears to be ivory. This receptacle, roughly hollowed out of the same piece of wood as that from which the figure has been carved, can have had no other object than to contain the substance regarded as magically potent with which images having fetish power were charged. It was then a fetish.
The other figures of this second group bear no such evidence of having formerly been employed as fetishes.
Fig. 16 showing the front and side views of a roughly blocked out figure with a triple crested headdress and with the lower part of the face held between or supported on the hands is of a type of which representatives are reported from at least two points in the region of the Kasai—viz., the Bushongo country near the confluence of that river with the Sankuru and the territory of the Bahuana on the Kwilu at no great distance to the west. The most distinctive feature is the convention according to which the hands are fused with the chin and the region of the mouth. This characteristic is equally well marked in the Bushongo (Bakuba) figure3 and in that from the Bahuana.4 In the latter the lips are defined, and the figure has two tall horns springing vertically from the top of the head. In other respects the general conformation and treatment of the trunk and legs and of the head leave no room for doubt as to the relation of these two objects to one another and to Fig. 16. The Bushongo example is to all intents and purposes identical with the latter, which is evidently from the Kasai country somewhere between the Lower Kwilu and the point where the Kasai turns to flow westward—probably from the Bushongo or some of the tribes in their immediate neighbourhood. Fig. 17 should probably be assigned to the same region.
Rude though these examples are, there is not lacking evidence of the same feeling for balance and rhythm that was remarked in the case of some of the more sophisticated products of the coast region. In Fig. 16 the two side lobes of the headdress are balanced by the forearms which make almost the same angle with one another as the outer bounding lines of those lobes; while the flattened portion of the conjoined face and hands with its main outline rounded below sends the eye immediately to the similar contour of the central ridge of the headdress with its opposed curve.
In this figure and in Fig. 17, as in Fig. 13 of the first group, the rough condition in which they have been left affords opportunity for observing the method of the woodcarver in blocking out his work—free unhesitating slashes of the knife, deep uncompromising notches, all the essentials of the clearly preconceived form attained in a few bold strokes.
Fig. 17 shows an even more notable assemblage of balanced curves and significantly arranged similar spaces, in the upper half of the figure, than Fig. 16. Both these figures have been coloured, the former black and the latter red, which indicates that they are to be regarded as completed for whatever purpose, whether of ornament or pastime merely, or of magic, they were intended. Red pigment made from powdered camwood mixed with grease is used as a cosmetic, sometimes for the whole person, throughout the southern Congo region. In some cases it has also a fetish significance.
The fine head, Fig. 18, is of a type found among the Fang of the region towards the coast behind the Gabun in the French Congo. If this is really a Fang head, it should not of course be placed in this group. There are, however, certain considerations which seem to justify its inclusion here.
In the possession of the University Museum is another head of strikingly similar appearance, which, according to Mr. E. Torday, the principal authority on the region, comes from the Isambo, an independent group of Bushongo living in the country near the confluence of the Kasai and Sankuru Rivers in the southwestern Belgian Congo. This head was published in the Museum Journal for September, 1919.5 The resemblances between the two are too close to be merely accidental. They extend to such essentials as the form of the headdress, the shape of the face, the treatment of the features, and the employment of the neck as a peg for insertion into a base pierced for its reception. As regards the features of the face the only important difference is in the eyes, which are altogether wanting in Fig. 18. It may not be without significance in this connection that the eyes of the Isambo head are represented as closed. The manner in which the nose is represented differs only in the greater definition of the nostrils in the case of the Isambo head. In both there is the same pouting mouth above the pointed receding chin.
In so far as the shape of the face is concerned, and especially the lower portion of it, the likeness embraces also the wooden cups in the form of a human head which are made by various tribes in the Kasai-Sankuru region dominated by the Bushongo people. One of these cups is pictured here in Figs. 21 and 22. It is remarkable for the stylistic treatment of the features, eyes, nose, and mouth being combined to form a single design upon the smoothly rounded surface of the face. Some of these cups have drooping wings or horns depending from the upper portion of the headdress in a manner quite similar to the corresponding parts of that shown in Figs. 18-20.6
The present home of the Fang, in which they are, relatively speaking, newcomers, still continuing their march to the sea, is distant from that of the Bushongo. But both peoples are believed to have had a former home in the region through which the Shari River runs north into Lake Chad; and it may be that common traditions due to influences to which both were subjected in their old home account for common features in their art.
The differences which appear in the objects alluded to are no greater than might be expected from a separation of this kind. On the other hand, the possibility that the similarities may be due to trade drift cannot be overlooked. A Fang head may have come into the Kasai country along some such current and been copied there. Figs. 18 and 19 show certain evidence which might possibly support this explanation.
The Bena Lulua are a Baluba people living on the Kasai at no great distance from the Bushongo. They are, according to Torday,7 the only people of Africa who practice a form of scarification which results in the designs which they make upon the skin of their faces appearing in the form of incisions, comparable to the moko of the Maori of New Zealand, and not of raised scars. The designs which appear upon the face of Figs. 18 and 19 are incised in the wood, whereas usually in negro woodcarvings of the human face or figure when cicatrizations are represented they are in relief to imitate the common method of cicatrization. The elements of the designs, moreover, and their position, if not exactly the same combination of elements in any individual case, are to be seen in the representations of raised cicatrized designs on the faces of Bena Lulua figurines in the University Museum, and they can be traced in the drawings of more elaborate incised designs which accompany the article by Mr. Torday just referred to.
It has been thought that the westward dissemination of the throwing knife with multiple branching blade is due to the Fang migration; and the name Bushongo is stated by Mr.Torday to mean “people of the throwing knife,” in reference to this weapon by the help of which the Bushongo established themselves in their present lands, though they have long abandoned its use, and in figurative reference to which the name Bakuba — “people of the lightning” — given to the Bushongo by their neighbours was probably bestowed.8
In the same region of the Kasai and at no great distance from the Bushongo live the Bapindi from whom came the three pronged comb or hairpin of which Fig. 23 gives a front and a back view. This ornament is copied from the head of a form of Bapindi hoe, in which the two prongs resembling a double queue of hair serve as a rake. The face, lacking a mouth, is a simplified form of that which appears with the same concave flattening of the lower portion in Sir H. H. Johnston’s illustration of the handle of a Bapindi hoe in his book George Grenfell and the Congo, Vol. II, p. 625.
A hair ornament of similar character, Fig. 24, betrays by the extraordinary form of the nose its origin among the Bayaka on the Kwango River to the southwest. The same peculiar convention appears in the head surmounting the Bayaka tomtom or wooden gong shown in Fig. 25. A similar stylistic deformation of the ears appears in both objects, which also exhibit variants of the same form of cap. The slightly raised field surrounding the face to the level of the mouth appears also in both cases. It evidently does not mark the line of the hair and short beard as in Figs. 1 and 4 in Part I of these Notes, since the same feature appears in the representation of females.9
The evolution of this highly grotesque form of nose from a naturalistic representation of one with a slightly knobbed and upturned tip is traced through a series in which each individual object shows a slight exaggeration of the retrousse tendency of the nose of that preceding it until the exaggeration becomes extreme in the final member of the series.10 This is the form of nose which belongs especially to the “great fetish” of the Bayaka,11 whose carvers of wooden fetishes are regarded as magicians.12 It reappears in the masks of the Kwango fetish practitioners.13
The miniature reproduction of an implement for use as an ornament for the coiffure has its parallels in other parts of the southern Congo. Thus Torday pictures imitations of a clyster tube and of an axe in wood among the hair ornaments worn by Bambala men and chief women;14 while in the southeast, by a more obvious association of ideas, in the Urua region the lancets employed in the cicatrization of the body are worn as ornaments in the woman’s chignon.15
Figs. 26, 27, and 28 are different views of a large wooden figurine representing a woman holding a bowl. This, like the stool, Figs. 29, 30, 31, comes from the region known as Urua, which extends from the west of Lakes Tanganyika and Mweru to beyond the Lualaba Congo. Perhaps the most conspicuous feature of these remarkable figures is the headdress just referred to, which is that of the Waguha women described by Cameron, who was the second European, Livingstone having been the first, to enter that country. He says: “We came to the Waguhha, which are simply a branch of the great nation of the Warua. . . . They dress their hair in a very elaborate manner, dividing it into four portions, each of which is worked into a plait turned over their heads with the ends doubled back so as to make a sort of cross of plaits, and the edges are ornamented with cowries, beads, and other things. It looks very much like a coronet. The ladies usually wore tattoo knives.”16
Thomson watched the building up of one of these elaborate chignons, which are worn by men as well as by women, for two days. The structure is based on the subject’s—or patient’s—own hair, but this is augmented with false hair and arranged over a block of wood, or of red wood dust consolidated with grease and hair, the whole thing being smeared over and concreted with a mixture of oil or grease and the red powder.17
Objects like those figured here are reported from other parts of this region including the neighbourhood of Lake Mweru in the extreme south and the country of the Manyema, neighbours of the Waguha, in the north. The coiffure described was not confined to the Waguha, though first described from Waguha exemplars of the mode.
These people scarify their bodies very fully with designs of quite simple elements. On this Cameron makes the same reflection as occurred to the early explorers of the Polynesian islands where true tattooing, not cicatrization, is practised: “Tattooing does away to a great extent with the necessity of clothing.” And indeed the sculptured skin of the original of the caryatid of the stool, Figs. 29 and 30, would almost have disguised her nudity from a strange beholder.
There is a considerable difference in the style of the two figures. The maker of the stool has subordinated his realism to the structural requirements of this piece of furniture, and in doing so has turned out an object really elegant in outlines and proportions. The stylistic reduction of the legs to what are little more than scrolls in low relief on the pedestal is an interesting development from a more realistic presentment on other similar objects from this region of the posture here indicated.
According to Sir Harry Johnston such stools are found further west in Lubaland and Lunda, and he thinks “it is probably the Lunda invasion which has brought them as far to the southeast as Lake Mweru.”18 No doubt Baluba influences have made themselves felt in the art of this region as in the rest of the southern Congo. Politically the Baluba, as represented by the ruling forces in the Lunda empire, were powerfully influential in the capital of Kasongo, the great chief of Urua, which, if the account which Kasongo gave of himself to Cameron is to be accepted, may be regarded as a Baluba state. Cameron says:19 “He gave us a speech of about two hours relating to the greatness of himself ; he was the greatest man in the world. The only man to be compared with him was Mata Yafa [Muata Yamvo], who was his friend and relation.” “The chief, by tradition, is one of an old family, and closely related to Mata Yafa, the great chief of Ulunda.”20 According to Wissmann, the people of Urua call themselves Baluba and are of a Baluba type.21
The simpler small figures from this region carved from the tusks of forest pigs, perhaps also from hippopotamus teeth, show characteristics similar to those of certain Baluba woodcarvings of the country further west. Yet, both the wood and the ivory carvings of this eastern district have a distinctive and attractive style of their own, whether it has been developed in situ as a result of partial isolation from other Baluba states or is due to the influence of an indigenous pre-Baluba culture.
III. The Northwest
On the western side of Africa the Cameroons district, north and east of the Bight of Biafra, forms part of the northwestern boundary between the Bantu speaking peoples of the south and the negroes of the Guinea region. The group of monkeys, of which the whole is pictured in Fig. 32, and sections in Figs. 33, 34 and 35, shows certain features which seem to justify an attribution to the Cameroons.
Neither Mr. C. C. Willoughby, the Director of the Peabody Museum at Harvard, nor Mr. T. A. Joyce of the British Museum, to both of whom sketches of several of the objects dealt with in the three Parts of these Notes were submitted, was willing to express a definite opinion as to the provenience of this object. Mr.Willoughby writes, however: “Objects of a similar nature were used in cult ceremonies in the Cameroon district.” As we shall see there are several reasons for adopting this suggestion as to locality.
The baulk of timber on which the animals stand—baulk and figures are carved whole out of one log—broadens out in the middle portion to form an extension backward of the platform which the flat hewn upper surface provides for the monkeys. The ends of the rearward extension have deep notches cut into them, clearly for the reception of the ends of other timbers notched in the same way. This is evidently the manner in which are locked together the four members of an elaborately carved door frame from the northwestern part of the Cameroons district now in the Berlin Museum of Ethnology.22 Doorposts and frames with figures of men and animals carved in the round and in relief are characteristic of the region. The object, Fig. 32, appears from the horizontal arrangement of the figures to be a lintel.
The monkeys, though crudely executed, are astonishingly lifelike in expression. This is often true of groups of animals, especially dogs and monkeys, in northern Cameroons wood sculpture, grotesque and anatomically eccentric as are their forms. The monkeys in this group are not merely in general alive, they are even individualized, not only by such obvious differences as the crouching posture of the individual at the right, Figs. 32 and 35, but by less conspicuous devices, such as the slight humping or hollowing of a back or a scarcely discernible variation in the sidewise tilt of a head (cf. Figs. 34 and 35). How much of this is accidental it is difficult to say—each monkey even seems to be intent upon a different object of hostility or surprise or fear—but the total effect is a remarkable performance and certainly not in all these respects accidentally so.
In addition to the structural resemblance between this object and door frame timbers known to be from the northern Cameroons, another point of likeness is in the treatment of the tails of the monkeys, which in woodcarvings of the region representing longtailed animals have often the same buttresslike appearance, solidly implanted, as it were, at the tips, as if to serve as a fifth support, an adjunct in this respect to the other four supporting members.23 In the case of the monkeys here, the wavy outline of the timber on which they stand suggests that it is intended to represent a branch of a tree, and the absence of any modelling to indicate the tip of the tails, which seem to spring out of the platform, is most likely due to the attempt to render an observed fact—the disappearance behind the limb of a tree of the ends of the tails of monkeys occupying it and using the sidewise pressure of their tails against the limb to steady themselves upon their perch.
The Cameroons region approaches the eastern end of that series of Coasts—Grain, Ivory, Gold, and Slave—which were the scene of the first important trading operations between Europe and Africa after the Portuguese discoveries of the fifteenth century. Of the negroes of these Coasts, the Kru of that part of the Grain Coast now known as Liberia were the first to take service on European vessels, and to this day they are indispensable to the masters of coasting vessels in the African trade. The name, often spelt Kroo, is not to be traced to this fact, however, but is probably a corrupt form of a tribal name among these people.
The Kru have thus for a great number of years been closely associated with Europeans; and the modified Africanism of the style of execution of Fig. 36 is an interesting illustration of the fact. The figure, according to a legend inscribed on it in ink, was “carved by a West Coast Krooman.” This statement is signed “Captain Hunt,” and the figure is very likely a portrait of the gallant officer himself in the makeshift uniform of the master of a coastwise tramp. The keg he is sitting on may have contained nails, though it is more likely that its contents were of a liquid nature more interesting to both principals in a commercial bargain on that thirsty coast. The figure may be plausibly dated, perhaps, by the Captain’s mutton chop whiskers—or side burns as they may appropriately be called here, being blacked in by scorching—at somewhere between 1870 and 1890. The characteristic negro carelessness about what he does not regard as significant detail, in spite of a painstaking attempt in this case to come up to European standards as exhibited in picture books and Brummagem figurines, is exemplified by the facts that although the opening of the tight jacket is carefully indicated with its hem running down the front, yet this is shown folding right over left, there are no buttons, and no division is marked between jacket and trousers. But the features of the face are unmistakably European, and the costume sufficiently so to be recognizable, which would be all that the sculptor regarded as important in this aspect of his work.
The term Krooman, Krooboy, is often loosely applied to natives other than true Krus in the employ of Europeans on the coast; but the fact that the sculptor may have been a Grebo or even a Kabinda native rather than a Kru properly so called does not lessen the interest of the piece as an example of negro sculpture persisting as such under foreign modifying influences.
1 Torday and Joyce, Les Bushongo, p. 162, Fig. 207.↪
2 Torday and Joyce, Notes on the Ethnography of the Bambala, Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXXV, p.402.↪
3 Album of the Congo, Pl. 213, Fig. 5.↪
4 Torday and Joyce, Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXXVI, P1. XXXII, Fig. 1.↪
5 Vol. X, No. 3, Fig 33.↪
6 See Guide to the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, Cologne, W. Foy, p. 193; L. Frobenius, Die Keramik, etc., Internationales Archiv fur Ethnographic, VII, pp. 10 ff., Fig. 73.↪
7 Man, 1913, No. 2.↪
8 Torday and Joyce, Les Bushongo, pp. 9, 36, 43.↪
9 Annales du Musée du Congo, Ser. 3, Vol. I, pp. 239 and 241.↪
10 Loc. cit., p. 239.↪
11 Torday and Joyce, Journal of the Anthropological Institute, Vol. XXXVI, p. 41.↪
12 Loc. cit., p. 43.↪
13 Annales, loc. cit., p. 170. See also P1. XXXVIII, Fig. 516: tomtom with gong stick and fetish bundle attached.↪
14 Les Bushongo, pp. 165, 187.↪
15 Fig. 2S here; and Cameron, Journal of the Anthropological Institute, Vol. VI, p. 169.↪
16 Loc. cit.↪
17 Thomson, quoted by W. Hein, Holzfiguren der Waguha, Internationales Archiv fur Ethnographie, Supplement 1896, pp. 15-17.↪
18 George Grenfell and the Congo, II, p. 744.↪
19 Hein, p. 173.↪
20 P. 172.↪
21 Verhandlungen der Berliner Gesellschaft far Anthropologic, etc., 1883, p. 457.↪
22 Illustrierte Volkerkunde, G. Buschan, editor, Stuttgart, 1910, p. 403.↪
23 Cf. Plates 3 and .5 in Das plastisch-figürliche Kunstgewerbe im Graslande von Karnerun, Paul Germann, Jahrbuch des städtischen Museums für Völkerkunde, Leipzig, Vol. 4, 1910.↪