Music from
Central Africa

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Lamellophone (mboro), rattle (mbiri)
Courtesy D. Demolin

In this Mangbetu song, a married man who does not get along with his wife sings of his despair after having tried everything to live peacefully.


Pictured above

Male figure
Ngbandi peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Late 19th-early 20th century
Wood, copper alloy
H. 44.9 cm (17 11/16 in.)
National Museum of African Art, gift of Lawrence Gussman in memory of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, 98-15-5

The long history of migration and interaction in northwestern Congo has resulted in complex artistic styles. The male figure here is attributed to the Ngbandi on the basis of its distinctive coiffure. Similarly, scarification marks on the female figure suggests its origin among the Ngala. The highly simplified figure is from the Zande peoples.

Figurative Sculpture Image: Kneeling figure (ntadi)The Lulua peoples have a single word, bwimpe, that links the concepts of "goodness" and "beauty." Significantly, it identifies Lulua carved female figures that exemplify the union of physical and moral beauty. The idea of equating physical beauty with proper behavior is found among many African peoples.

Image: Ngala woman with scarification, Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo)Since the human body is associated with ideal social concepts, it is not surprising that carved human figures feature prominently in African art. Representations range from highly schematic forms to naturalistic renderings. Details of body ornamentation--scarification, hairstyle, and jewelry--identify the figure not as a specific individual but as a well-adjusted and productive member of the community. Hairstyle and scarification details, however, do not always reflect current practices or fashions. Instead, they may point to the ancestral past or to the continued relevance of traditional ideals of beauty and behavior. Figures also convey social information, including rank, marital status, or membership in an association. Most are carved as adults who are valued for contributing to the community and continuing the family line.

Pictured above (from top to bottom)

Kneeling figure (ntadi)
Kongo peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo
16th-19th century
H. 34.3 cm (13 1/3 in.)
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, gift of Lawrence Gussman, New York, to American Friends of the Israel Museum in honor of Sarita Gantz, B97.0018

In Kongo culture, a stone ntadi was placed on the grave of a chief or other distinguished member of the village. The tradition of carving these commemorative statues in soft stone may have begun in the 16th century, gained popularity in the 19th century, and fell out of favor early in the 20th century. Most of them depict male adults in varying poses. The kneeling stance and upraised hands of this figure suggest an attitude of prayer or imploring, but it has also been interpreted as indicating the generosity of a ruler.

Ngala woman with scarification, Belgian Congo
(now the Democratic Republic of the Congo)

From an early 20th-century postcard
Photographer and publisher unknown
Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art


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