Ritual Messengers

The Peoples of Central Africa

Ancestor figure. Southern Hemba. Shaba, Zaïre. Wood, fibre.
© Africa-Museum, Tervuren

  The Hemba

The Hemba live in the north-east of the Luba cultural area, on either side of the Luika River. They form, with part of the western Luba, Tabwa, Boyo and Bembe, an extensive cultural and artistic area; the stylistic and ethnographic variations of each group represent numerous beliefs and practices that remain unexplained. The ancestor cult is a major feature in religious practices throughout the region. For example, in Luba art ancestors of kings and chiefs are featured on sceptres, spears, chairs and other regalia, and large statuary plays a minor role. In contrast, the Hemba are best known for their funereal statuary. In the past, families established their position within the vast clan structure by creating ancestor figures, imposing sculptures representing — literally — past generations.

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