Ceremonial Bowstand: Female Figure

Date: 19th–20th century

Geography: Democratic Republic of the Congo

Culture: Luba peoples

Medium: Wood, metal, beads, string

Dimensions: H. 38 1/2 x W. 13 1/2 x D. 3 in. (97.8 x 34.3 x 7.6 cm)

Classification: Wood-Implements

Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift and The Wunderman Foundation Gift, 1963

Accession Number: 1978.412.486


This elegant bow stand was one of several royal sculptures owned by a Luba monarch. Such artifacts make a reference to the Luba culture hero Mbidi Kiluwe, a foreign prince who ushered in an era of enlightened leadership and founded a dynasty of sacred Luba kingship. Luba ceremonial bow stands were never displayed in public, but were kept within the king's residence and guarded by a female dignitary.

Female imagery is prominently integrated into insignia of Luba leadership. In Luba culture, women's bodies are conceived as receptacles for the spiritual power that protects and upholds the tenets of divine kingship. In this example, a female figure is represented as the shaft. Her extensively embellished skin and elaborate coiffure are those of a cultivated and highly respected member of society and embody an ideal of Luba civilization.

Royal bow stands refer to the culture hero Mbidi Kiluwe's identity as a hunter. They evoke the skill and rarified knowledge associated with that often dangerous activity. Five miniature antelope horns carved into the end of the central extension link the ruler not only to the power of nature but also to the arts of healing that draw upon such materials. The conical iron studs that appear on all three arms of the bow stand are tiny replicas of anvils used to pound and shape iron. They are at once a reference to Mbidi's introduction of ironworking technology to Luba society and the challenging rites of investiture a Luba leader undergoes. Like metal, a new king must be shaped and strengthened for the difficult tasks he will perform as ruler.

Although this artwork appears on the 20th-century segment of the Timeline, it is ascribed a date of 19th–20th century.