Pierce Galleries, Hingham and Nantucket Fine Art Dealers, Museum Quality Paintings

Tabwa Male Figure

Tabwa Male Figure
Carved wood, rope and hand hammered metal
4 feet tall with iron base

The TABWA tribe has no unified history. They migrated from east central Africa looking for fertile land and to escape warfare. They settled in the southeastern Congo (Zaire) and Sagare, Tanzania and their language is Kitabwa (Bantu). Neighboring tribes include their close friends the Luba and the Bemba and Lunda tribes. Because they have no authoritarian chiefs, they fell prey to African enemies and Arab slave traders and their art only began in the late 19 th century. Figures like this one were worshipped and represented great ancestor spirits, healers and earth spirits (on occasion). Elongated torsos, thick lips, oval faces and long stiff limbs are typical of Tabwa style.

The Tabwa carve utilitarian objects like combs, drums and bellows and their ancestral figures, masks and worshipped figures (like this one) are strong in appearance and have attitude. They sell potatoes, wheat, onions, beans, maize and fish (caught along the Tanganyika and Mweru rivers with lines and nets). Chiefs of each village inherit their titles via provable ancestral lines and they represent continuity of the universe and security.

Tabwa religion honors and gives power to ancestors that are embodied in figural sculptures known as mikisi . The mikisi were placed in special places at entrances to guard and protect and when people passed they touched them. When Catholic missionaries forbid the use of mikisi, 1000s were destroyed in the 1870s.Tribe members offer food and drink to the mikisi figures (like this one) during new moons (rebirth/continuity of life) and they often anointed them with clay. There are few Tabwa artisans today.

References: Tabwa: the Rising of a New Moon: a Century of Tabwa Art , E. Maurer and Allen F. Robert, University of Michigan, 1985; A History of the Art of Africa, Visona, Poynor, Coleā€¦Abrams.