What does Central African art represent ?
Central African art reflects the dominance of ancient powerful kingdoms and other forms of government that took over this part of the lands. The reinforcement of tribal leadership and execution of important ritual, ceremonial and spiritual functions would not have been as vibrant without objects of Central African art.
The countries that make up this region of Africa include the stretch from Chad, Cameroon, and well into the southern areas of Zambia and Angola. It also comprises of the Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Gabon, Burundi, Rwanda, and the Equatorial Guinea. The different ethnic groups or tribes largely contributed to the birth and development of the various types of art from this region.
The densely vegetated rain forest basin that envelopes the Congo River in most parts provide a very rich source of wood. This makes the majority of art from this area mostly, but not limited to, wooden works.
The natives that live at the banks of the Congo River, spreading in the western areas of the DRC and well into the bordering countries, are called Kongo. This ethnic group excels in crafting Central African art and is well-recognized for a number of unique sculptural styles. The nkisi nkondi, or the ‘power sculptures’ are wooden figures, symbolizing divine power, that provides spiritual guidance in sealing agreements, healing illnesses and protecting the tribal villages. With plain bodies, the rest of the figure—the hands, feet and face are finely elaborated.
The Fang people nestled at Gabon, together with neighboring tribes, holds a traditional culture that specially gives regard to ancestor cults. The remains of Fang ancestors are kept inside tube-shaped bark containers. These one-of-a-kind African art are covered by lids topped by seated figures of a male or female, believed to be protecting the ancestral relics. These container figures also act out a vital role in ritual initiations of young village men into adulthood or into warriors.
The kingdom of Luba, dominating the south east regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is among the groups of ethnicity that gives utmost honor to their kings. One of the region's iconic art form that show royal authority is a carved tripod that holds bows used for hunting. Believed to be sacred, these bow stands are kept safe within the palace walls. The rooms in which they are stored are guarded by carved, seated female with hands on her breasts. Her gesture, in Luba, represents the power of women to reproduce and this power is believed to lead to political dominance.
Stretching from the northern Angola, to northern Zambia and the southern DRC, are many groups that share a Central African art—the mukanda masks. In contrasts to most masks, these are crafted out of bark, extended over a set of sticks used as frame and coated with resin. This type of Central African art is made in great assortment and is primarily used during initiation rites of young boys into manhood.
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