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4 / Ceremony and Society

Stool
Stool
Artist / Origin Attributed to the Buli Master, Luba, Democratic Republic of Congo
Region: Africa
Date 19th century
Material Wood, metal studs
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions H: 24 in. (61 cm.)
Location The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Credit Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art/Photo by Max Yawni

expert perspective

Christa ClarkeSenior Curator of Arts of Africa and the Americas, Newark Museum
Mary Nooter RobertsProfessor of Culture and Performance, University of California, Los Angeles

Stool

» Attributed to the Buli Master, Luba, Democratic Republic of Congo

expert perspective

Mary Nooter Roberts Mary Nooter Roberts Professor of Culture and Performance, University of California, Los Angeles

In Luba art, the female form is a reference to the power behind the throne of a king and also to the power of the women more generally.

When a Luba king died, his successor formed a new kingdom in a new location, and a woman who became possessed by the deceased king’s spirit went to reside in his former capital, which became known as a ‘spirit capital.’ And that woman, called mwadi, became the king, and the new king would pay tribute to her and offer gifts of honor and blessing. And she would remain in that sacred site, and when she died, another woman in her lineage would succeed her. So the memory of king became embodied by a woman.

In fact, all the regalia of a Luba king depicted the female form. The thrones that a king uses are supported by female figures, very similar to the headrests. Staffs and scepters, ceremonial axes, ceremonial cups and bowls—every single item that forms the treasury of a king had some kind of allusion to the female form. It’s because Luba people suggest that only the body of a woman is strong enough to hold a spirit as powerful as that of a king.” 

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