Caryatid stool. Luba. Shaba, Zaïre. Wood,
© Africa-Museum, Tervuren
WHAT IS IT?
This is a caryatid stool from the Luba culture. The stool
distinguishes its owner as a chief, and is his most important symbol of
power. In other cultures, the stool would be equivalent to a crown. Other
important elements of a chief's regalia are his staff, axe and spear. The
mpemba (white kaolin) is another royal symbol; this sacred powder
symbolizes the chief's alliance with the spirits of his kingdom.
WHERE DOES IT COME
This stool comes from the Shaba province, located south and east of
Zaïre, where the Luba live.
WHAT MESSAGE DOES IT
The stool identifies its owner as chief, king or medium, and affirms his
prestige. Responsibility for the fertility and prosperity of his people fell
to the chief or king.
HOW IS IT USED?
The stool is designed so that the chief's feet never touch the ground and
so he cannot be contaminated by sickness. It is believed that if a chief is
healthy then his community will be healthy too. Seating is also a metaphor
for the hierarchy among the Luba people.
WHAT MAKES THIS STOOL MORE THAN AN
In African cultures, "art for art's sake" does not exist. Although beauty
may be important to an artist, form is determined primarily according to
social or ritual criteria and bearing in mind practicalities. For example, a
piece will be light or substantial depending on the weight it must bear.
The degree to which the piece is finished will depend on the type of wood
HOW ARE STOOLS MADE?
First, the sculptor cuts a cylindrical piece of wood and lets it dry. He
then divides in into three parts: head, body and legs. In this stool, the
head and arms lifting the king are the main elements of the sculpture. The
sculptor carves the outline with an adze, works on details such as the face
with a chisel. Incisions are made with a knife. Parts of this sculpture have
been covered with white clay, an important symbol linking the object with
ancestors. Finally, the wood is protected with oil, most likely from the
palm leaf, that gives it a dark patina effect.