|Title||Yombe Sitting Maternity Nursing Infant Congo African Art|
|Type of Object||carving, figure|
|Country of Origin||Democratic Republic of Congo|
|Approximate Age||Early to mid 20th century|
|Overall Condition||Good. Most of our pieces have spent decades on at least two continents, and have been treasured by several owners. Please look carefully at the pictures which may also reveal condition and damage.|
|Damage/Repair||some shallow cracks and chips|
Additional Information: A seated mother nurses her infant. The whitened basin in the belly of the infant appears to be a vessel, and the mother also has one on her back. A finely carved figure with excellent patina suggesting some age.
The maternity figures of the Kongo group, which includes the Kongo, Yombe and Vili, are among the most famous and sought-after in the world. The historical roots of the Kongo group, and their great king "Ne Kongo," can be traced back to the 13th century. Without much competition, they expanded steadily until they controlled a vast part of West Central Africa, including most of present day Angola, Gabon, Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo. The arrival of the Portuguese and their missionaries in the 16th century ended their expansion, especially southward. The Kongo were also one of the major sources of slaves to the New World. Today, though greatly diminished, the approximately three million Kongo can still be found in Angola, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in the Republic of Congo.
Kongo statuary is justifiably famous, and falls into three categories: the power figures, known as "nkondi nkisi" are the most recognized, as they can be enormously impressive and complex, with mirrors, nails, blades, feathers, and any number of other additives placed upon an already dramatic wooden statue. These figures are manipulated by the "nganga," or healer, to protect one from bad luck, witchcraft, or any number of personal reasons. Magical statues help bridge the gap between the known and the unknown, and ease everyday tensions in the village. Also famous and quite common are the mother and child figures. Carved for obvious reasons, they are often of great beauty. The figures and masks from this group can be very difficult to tell apart, as they share mulitple stylisitic similarities.
Mother and child figures represent the female ancestor taking care of her descendants. This commemorative figure would have been used to honor the maternal spirit who brings prosperity and fertility. Among the Kongo people, woman is considered as the chief of the family. Thus, female ancestor is the guarantor of the fecundity and continuity of the clan or family. Such sculptures would be kept on a family or local shrine where she would be receiving sacrifices and offerings.
For a wonderful discussion and many superb examples, see A SURVEY OF ZAIREAN ART: THE BRONSON COLLECTION, by Cornet.