Ritual Messengers

The Peoples of Central Africa

Statue. Bainda/Bakeci/Basu (pre-Bembe). East Kivu, Zaïre. Wood, leather, fibre.
© Africa-Museum, Tervuren

  The Bembe and Boyo

Located in eastern Zaïre, in the region on the northern border of Lake Tanganyika, the Bembe and Boyo share cultural traditions although their origins are distinct. Largely influenced by neighbouring populations the Lega, Hemba and Tabwa their art is well known for its ancestral representations.

The Bembe and Boyo have borrowed the custom of the bwami society from the Lega, albeit it in a simplified form. Among the Bembe, bwami members coexist with members of other societies such as the alunga and the elanda.

Daniel Biebuyck has ascribed the stylistic features common in Bembe and Boyo art to the existence of what he calls "pre-Bembe groups": the Bainda, Bakeci, Basu, Basikasingo, etc. This has been the source of much confusion in attributing works; an object found in one particular ritual practice may have taken its form from sculptures used in another ritual ceremony. Thus we may find a link between a Bembe representation of an alunga society mask and a pre-Bembe group ancestor cult object, or recognize formal features of Bembe art in Boyo ancestral figures.

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