Elaborately carved bells such as this one, called madibu (sing. dibu), are instruments used by Kongo ritual specialists, or nganga. Associated with hunting practices, madibu are commissioned by men to be strapped around the necks of their dogs during the hunt. This hunt can be thought of symbolically as well as literally: hunting dogs scent game in the forest but are also known to see and hear otherworldly presences. When sounded by the nganga, madibu function as mystical percussive instruments that allude to the dogs' heightened sensory abilities. The eyes on the carefully carved stylized face of this dibu, enhanced by mirrored glass, suggest the surface of water, a symbolic link to the other realm.
In his African art notebook, d'Harnoncourt included a section devoted to exquisitely carved functional objects from Central Belgian Congo, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. His "Desiderata" for this section was a Kuba prestige cup, which he fulfilled with drums and seats, as well as the Leele vessel and Kongo bell presented here.
D'Harnoncourt's acquisitions directly reflect on trends in the New York art market of the day. A survey of the 160 African works he acquired for Rockefeller until 1956 reveals that about eighty percent were purchased through two major New York–based vendors: Julius Carlebach (1909–1964) and John J. Klejman (1905–1995).