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    Description

    Hemba Male Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
    Probably early 20th century
    wood, fiber


    The Hemba broke away from the Luba empire in the 1880s, but still maintain trading connections, exchanging salt for iron tools and raffia cloth. The calm, smooth elegance of Hemba figure sculpture reflects this connection, echoing that seen in Luba carvings.

    Political power among Hemba subsistence farmers is in the hands of male heads of extended families of landowners. These chiefs venerate their ancestors, representing individuals with wood figures, to which they sacrifice in times of stress. Each figure serves as a conduit between the ancestral spirit it represents and the living chief. The possession of many such figures is the visible sign of the nobility and power of the owner. Figures are kept in the chief's house or in a nearby funerary hut and are present as he renders judgement in disputes brought before him.

    Although the figures represent individual ancestors, they are stylistically generalized, expressing balance, symmetry and refinement in smooth, gently curving forms intended to express the highest moral and aesthetic values of the Hemba. The present figure has the gently curved forehead and arched eyebrows above partially closed eyes characteristic of such figures, as well as the usual four-lobed hairstyle, expressed as a flat or slightly concave disc on the back of the head. Many of these hairstyles also have cross-shaped patterns imposed on the discs to evoke the four directions of the universe and the crossroads where spirits assemble. Hands on each side of a swelling belly frame a flat, low-relief disc representing the navel, symbol of family continuity. The pose symbolizes the ancestor embracing and watching over his descendants.

    Many Hemba figures, including the present example, have woven raffia kilts or skirts. Some also show termite damage to the feet or lower legs, as does this figure, probably from placement in funerary huts rather than chief's houses.

    Height: 24 inches


    Condition Report*: Condition report available upon request.
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

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    Auction Dates
    November, 2015
    6th Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 2
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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