Important Chokwe Chief
Chokwe Peoples, D.R. Congo
H: 17 in, W: 8 in.
Material: wood, hair
In the early nineteenth century, Chokwe chiefs in the Savanna of present day Democratic Republic of The Congo and Angola, were active in trading with the merchants from Europe and The New World. They profited from commerce in ivory, rubber and wax, and became important regional rulers whose prestige and power was reflected in the art they commissioned for their courts.
This figure depicts a Chokwe chief, or mwanangana, and epitomizes the balance of power and refinement that is characteristic of Chokwe court art. His large, spreading hands,well trimmed beard, and aggressive posture suggest the strength and vigor or a ruler. The sweeping curves of hands and legs, with distinctive headdress, rendered here in wood, with part of headdress, with part of headdress restored, represent an actual Chokwe crown. The chief sits regally on an elephant, with two attendants on each side of the elephant, upright in a meditational mood, depicts his power and authority as a chief. What is interesting about this piece is that it is carved out of a single block of hardwood, with a fine black patina. There is obvious restoration on the left ear.