The long handle of this spoon/stirrer depicts the full figure of an adult woman wearing a plant fiber skirt. Most spoons carved by Bijogo artists depict only the head and breasts of a woman or a long neck ending at the breasts; the neck itself is usually carved in relief with intricate geometric patterns. Danielle Duquette suggests that the cylindrical form which connects the figure to the spoon represents the large bundles that women (and young boys) carry on their heads.
A spoon such as this is used for serving food during female initiation ceremonies. The carved female figure probably symbolizes the importance of Bijogo women as intermediaries with the spirit world and as procreators of life. The ceremonies, which are carried out over a period of years, initially involve the symbolic possession of a young girl's body by the spirit of a boy who has died before his own initiation was completed. His soul, according to myth, is unable to rest and must wander and suffer. But if he can inhabit the body of a young woman, he can become a powerful and virile being. For her part, the girl becomes a medium and thus fulfills an important religious role for the people. She also has a special relationship to the mother of the deceased boy.
Duquette, Danielle Gallois. 1979. "Woman Power and Initiation in the Bissagos Islands." African Arts 12 (3), p. 34.
Spoon with a standing female figure atop a slender handle and surmounted by a flattened spoon bowl.
Julius Carlebach, New York, -- to 1962
Roy and Sophia Sieber, Bloomington, Indiana, 1962 to 1996
African Mosaic: Selections from the Permanent Collection, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 19, 2013-ongoing (installed July 16, 2014)
Life Objects: Rites of Passage in African Art, Princeton University Art Museum, September 19, 2009-January 24, 2010
Making the Grade, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 11, 2001-October 27, 2002
Gifts to the National Collection of African Art, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., September 17, 1997-January 4, 1998
Kreamer, Christine Mullen. 2003. " A Tribute to Roy Sieber: Part 2." African Arts 36 (2), p. 16, no. 10.
National Museum of African Art. 1999. Selected Works from the Collection of the National Museum of African Art. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 32, no. 13.
Ravenhill, Philip. 1998. Gifts to the National Collection of African Art. Exhibition brochure, no. 7.
Robbins, Warren M. and Nancy I. Nooter. 1989. African Art in American Collections. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, p. 138, no. 234.
St. Paul Art Center. 1963. Africa: Images and Realities: The arts of Africa. St.Paul, no. 16.