African Art Exam

Art for the spirits

Bieri was a wooden carving from the Okak Fang region. Bieri had thebody of a grown woman and the head of a child. The hips and breastsrepresented the stature of a woman while the small head in comparisonto the body size, represents that of a child. Bieri was used forancestral consultation. The people involved would consume a plantwith a stimulant effect that would create a trance lasting for hours.The people involved believed that the trance would create a bondbetween them and the ancestral spirits. The resuscitation ofancestral spirits would then happen by placing items behind Bieriamidst song and dance. The act was meant to please the ancestors as ameans of persuading them to bring favor upon the community.

The Kota kept bones and other relics of ancestors in a wooden brasscompartment called Bwete. The compartment was a representation ofancestral spirits that would be invoked in times of crisis such asmatters of fertility, success in commercial ventures, and success inhunting. The piece of art resembled a battle shield standing on twolegs. Bwete was also believed to be a protector against immorality inthe society. Husbands used Bwete to guard their wives frominfidelity. The Kota people believed that if husbands placed thewife’s clothing in the reliquary, they (the wives) would go mad themoment they engaged in infidelity.

Nongtang was a Fang mask used to represent the spirits of the dead.The name Nongtang loosely translates to a dead white woman. The Fangpeople associated the paleness of the White man’s skin to death.The creation of the mask revolves around the same time that theEuropeans set foot in Congo, a clear indication that Nongtang wasinspired by the arrival of the white man. The association of thewhite man’s paleness with death shows how the Kota people loathedtheir white colonialists. The white color of the mask denotes theassociation of paleness with death. The masks were used to entertainfamilies especially during death rituals, mourning, and birthcelebrations. The Kota people believed that the masks would preventthe spirits of the dead from haunting their family members.

Art for the Kings

The Mangbetu court musicians used flat bell-shaped wooden gongs amongother musical instruments. Only male musicians played the musicalelement because it was quite heavy and it required long hours ofplay. Although seemingly simple in its nature of construction, thegong was only present in the royal courts. The commoners of Mangbetuwere prohibited from owning the bell-shaped wooden gongs. Theinstruments were performed for formal royal occasions such as duringcelebrations, or the arrival of guests to the state. The kingdom alsoused the gongs for communication during military expeditions.

Emamble as a sickle-shaped knife that was used a symbol of authorityfor the rulers of the Mangbetu kingdom in modern day Congo. The bladehad two holes into which the wooden handle was fixed by iron rods. .Only the king was allowed to handle the knife because it wasconsidered holy. During public ceremonies, the king would the knifearound to show that indeed he wielded the most power within thekingdom. Due to its perceived importance, the knife was highlyguarded by the warriors of the court. The knife required the effortsof an artistic blacksmith and a wood carver. The two were picked fromamong the best craftsmen in the kingdom.

Sanza Azande was a small musical instrument that was only common inroyal courts. The instrument takes the form of a small box consistingof vibrating keys placed on top of a sound box. The keys cut atdifferent points of the instrument produced various tones whenpressed. In comparison to modern day musical instrument, the SanzaAzande could be described as a hand-held piano. The instrument wasoften used with others during song and dance at the royal court ofthe Mangbetu kingdom. Just like the rest of the items associated withthe king, Sanza Azande was only permissible within the royal courts.


Art for the kings differed from that of spirits in a number of ways.For starters, art for kings was rare to find and was only made by thebest artisans. For instance, the king’s sickle knife marked thehighest price for artistry. The expertise used to make theinstruments was comparable to none other in the kingdom. When theking died, the new king contracted the services of a new blacksmithto make a new symbol of authority. Most of the art for kings wascustomized to meet their particular interests and was often destroyedwhen they died. On the other hand, art for sprits and religiousfunctions was made of common material. The art did not require theskills of the best artists in the kingdom because even amateurartists were allowed to try out their skills.

The people that paid patronage to these artistic designs alsodiffered between the two categories of art. For spirit art, thecommunity and religious leaders paid patronage. The art was used toinvoke the spirits of the dead during ceremonies that involved mostmembers of the society. The entire community also paid homage tospirit art for the fear of being haunted by the spirits of the dead.

On the other hand, people who were present at the royal courts werethe only ones who paid homage to royal art. However, during publicevents that required the presence of the king, all the subjects ofthe kingdom would pay homage to the pieces of art. All people wererequired to respect the art. Visitors to the court, the royal family,and workers in the court paid patronage to this category of art. Inaddition, it was common for the king to reward visitors to the courtwith pieces of art.

Some of the objects are less abstract than others because of themeaning they hold. For instance, the sickle-shaped knife was more ofa symbol of authority rather than a piece of art in itself. Theimportance associated with the knife was because of what itrepresented in the kingdom and not its economic value. The whitefacemask’s importance was more physical that it was abstract. Themask signified death, and curse while on the outside it did not lookscary as someone would expect of a mask representing such dreadedthings. In general, most of these objects are more abstract becauseof the symbolic meaning they bear. The objects had strong spiritualsignificance. The people concerned valued the objects more for theirabstract importance than their physical meaning.