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Funerary sculpture  (kigango)
Date: Mid-late 20th century
Medium: Wood, pigment
Dimensions: H x W x D: 168 x 12.1 x 6 cm (66 1/8 x 4 3/4 x 2 3/8 in.)
Credit Line: Gift of Ernie Wolfe, III
Geography: Kenya
Object Number: 79-20-1
Search Terms:
geometric motif
Male use
Object is not currently on exhibit

The Giriama peoples carve wood funerary sculptures in the form of flat chip carved posts. Some have flat stylized heads like this example but others have more elaborately carved three dimensional heads. While both types are sometimes placed on the actual graves, they often are kept in the house compound where the elder male of the family can make offerings. The sculpture's purpose is not to be a portrait or mark the location of a physical body as to offer a place for the spirit of the dead. It seems that the tall posts are erected only for men, and specifically for those who were wealthy. Yet they are not permanent memorials. They can only be moved once and are then left behind as the farm is relocated, and are kept only as long as the individual is remembered.

Wood plank sculpture with a circular head, triangular notches in the sides 3/4 of the way down and eroded bottom end with minimal features and a decorative band of cut triangles along the front of the plank, and a rosette on the chest and stomach. Sculpture has an overall weathered surface.

Ernie Wolfe III, Los Angeles, after 1973 to 1979

Celebration: A World of Art and Ritual, Renwick Gallery, Washington D.C., March 17, 1982-July 10, 1983

Life...Afterlife: African Funerary Sculpture, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 19, 1981-March 1, 1982

Smithsonian Institution. Office of Folklife Programs and Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art. 1982. Celebration: A World of Art and Ritual. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, p. 141, no. 189.

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