Ritual Messengers

The Peoples of Central Africa

Maternity statue. Beembe. Republic of the Congo. Wood, beads, fibre, earthenware.
© Africa-Museum, Tervuren

  The Beembe

The Beembe live almost entirely within the Republic of the Congo, between the western Kongo and the Teke. Because their territory was outside the main areas of European exploration, they were virtually overlooked until colonization began. This lack of recognition, plus a lack of interest in the small objects that these people produced, explains why Beembe statuary was identified relatively late — after it was seen in European museums and collections.

Little precise ethnographic information exists about the Beembe. Although their style is quite different from that of their neighbours, the more widely known Teke, it is believed that ancestral effigies of the Beembe, like those of the Teke, are associated with rituals of protection, fecundity or healing. The absence of charms and accessories on the majority of Beembe figurines may be due to a "clean-up" undertaken by their first Western owners.

The dominant structural traits of Beembe sculpture include remarkable scarifications that allow us to determine the identity of the person represented, as well as his or her social status.

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