by Klaus-Jochen Krüger
It is quite unusual to find sculptures from the southern
part of Sudan in early collections, whether public or private. This
war-torn region has been inaccessible for many years, and, until very
recently, southern Sudan was one of the few regions unscathed by African
traders scouting for works of art. Sculpture from this remote region has
only recently begun to appear in greater numbers on the art market, but
despite their lack of pedigree they are worthy of detailed examination.
In this article, we will describe the funerary sculptures of the Bongo
and Belanda tribes. In a second article, to be published in a future
issue of Tribal Arts, we will address the sculptural traditions of other
ethnic groups in the region as well as other forms of artistic
production by the Bongo.
Although Bongo art has long been known
by specialists, and a few pieces found their way into the museums in the
nineteenth century, no major Bongo work appeared in any Western public
collection during the colonial period. It is therefore not surprising to
see the paucity-or even total absence-of illustrations of Bongo and
Belanda sculptures in works on African sculpture. Enthusiasts of African
art did not start to take an interest in these remarkable works until
they appeared in the major exhibition Afrikanische Skulptur, held by the
Ludwig Museum in Cologne in 1990, and in Africa: The Art of a Continent
five years later at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, in which three
large sculptures were featured.
In this study, we shall outline the history of this
art as it relates to the Western world and explore its function and
meaning in the world of the Bongo and Belanda.
The Bongo live in
the southern part of the province of Bahr-el-Ghazal in the south of
Sudan, a region that is predominantly grassland. They live in familial
farming communities, spread at some distance from one another, usually
near water sources or rivers. During the rainy season, the grass is so
high-sometimes over two meters-that orientation becomes almost
The population has now deserted these vast regions,
leaving only a few thousand Bongo divided into various groups and
relatively isolated from each other. One large group with which this
author has interacted lives in the Tonj region, another is in the Wau
region and south of the Wau, and a third is in the Bussere river region.
Smaller groups inhabit the Tembura district, the Rumbek region, and the
Maridi and Yambio districts. The Belanda are found in the Wau region,
mainly in the south and west, as well as in the Tembura region. A small
group lives in Yambio. Thanks to this fragmentation, regional artistic
styles can be confidently identified.
A Bongo man
The Bongo are
probably of Sudanese origin. They emigrated from an area in present-day
Chad and around 1600 settled in the province they still occupy today.
Their migration took them across territories far south of the Mbomu
river, which may explain certain stylistic influences from the northern
region of the Congo. In all likelihood, they brought the tradition of
adorning tombs with wooden sculptures with them from the Chari region of
Chad. It is documented that some Sara groups,1 with whom they have kinship ties, also
have funerary sculptures, but not all Bongo and Belanda groups create
sculpture of this type.
The Belanda probably took the tradition of
placing sculptures on their tombs from their Bongo neighbors.2 This group emerged in the early
seventeenth century from steady intermarriage between the Dho Luo (a
Nilotic group from the northeast) and autochthonous Sudanese groups. The
term Belanda actually covers two different tribes, the Bviri, who are
primarily Sudanese mixed with Nilotic blood, and the Boor, who are
primarily Nilotic mixed with Sudanese blood. The Bviri are related to
the Ndogo and speak a Sudanese language. The Mbegumba are part of the
The Boor, on the other hand, are of Nilotic origin, are
related to the Luo, and speak the Luo language. The Mberidi are part of
the Boor. The Bviri and the Boor have drawn culturally closer to one
another through constant intermarriage.
The Azande occupation of the
region for almost the entire nineteenth century also left its mark.
Towards the end of that century, the sultan of the Azande in Tembura
drove many Belanda from their lands and they resettled much further to
the north. Not all fled, however, and some, under the domination of the
Azande conquerors, continued to practice their culture in a superficial
manner. Known as Abare-Azande, their funerary sculpture can be
classified among that of the Azande.(fig.1)
Bongo territory was one of the regions of African most
fully described by European explorers at the end of the nineteenth
century. At the time when Georg Schweinfurth, Theodor von Heuglin,
Romolo Gessi, John Petherick, and Wilhelm Junker were in Bahr-el-Ghazal
province, the region was in the throes of cultural upheaval and wracked
by periods of war and conquest. The Bongo in particular were victims of
these disturbances, and were almost totally exterminated by Arab slave
traders. They were either sold as slaves or taken to zeribahs (fortified
camps) as laborers to produce food or serve as porters (see
Schweinfurth, Junker, Petherick, et al.). The social organization of the
zeribah relied on the exploitation of human resources such as slaves, as
well as on the ivory trade. The intensity of cultural relations with the
Muslim conquerors doubtlessly influenced Bongo traditional culture and
almost completely annihilated the Bongo as a people. The unstratified
Bongo system of social organization, which had no central political
leadership, could not stand up to the Arab's highly organized military
conquests, and the Bongo were decimated. The same happened to the
Belanda, some of whom escaped from the conflict only by putting
themselves under the protection of the Azande (one colony even lived at
the court of the Azande lord Gbudwe in Yambio) or by emigrating towards
the south. Others fled northward with the Azande warriors close behind,
and were forced to endure the latter's raids. The Bongo also suffered at
the hands of the Azande. The former were armed only with bows and
arrows, whereas the latter used spears, shields and swords. Disorganized
and inferior in number, the Bongo nonetheless proved tough adversaries
because of their guerrilla tactics.
The western part of the south Sudan was largely
depopulated when the English took charge of the political administration
of the region at the start of the twentieth century. It remains so
today. The low population density kept game fairly plentiful, and
cultures which had traditionally relied on hunting managed to survive.
Until the 1970s the Bongo continued to subsist by hunting, using spears,
bows and arrows, snares, and nets. Hunting also lay behind their
traditional funerary monuments, which are decorated with large figural
sculptures. Such sculptures portrayed the deceased, but the tombs
themselves were also intended to show the rank he had attained in
society through prowess in hunting and subsequent feast giving, and thus
the influence he could exert on the living from the thereafter.
Bongo Sculptures in the Western World
Although the early explorers were
interested in Bongo sculpture, we owe most of the illustrations and
detailed descriptions of them to Schweinfurth and Junker. Petherick was
the first to bring a Bongo sculpture3 back to Europe, and it is now in the
British Museum in London (see fig. 2, left).
It has little in common with the
other pieces that have come out since. Similarly, the sculpture
illustrated by Schweinfurth in Artes Africanae shows a style that has
now disappeared (fig. 4).
The works recorded by Georg Schweinfurth and Petherick
were not tomb sculptures. They probably belonged to the type of figural
sculpture placed in the house in memory of the deceased that was
described by Georg Schweinfurth, or are similar to those erected on
either side of the road leading to the village noted by J.
The first photo of a Bongo sculpture dates
from 1906 and is by the missionary Fritz Geyer.4 It is representative of a particular
style still seen today, and the artistic region associated with it is
centered around Tembura, near the Jubu river (see fig. 5b,
The sculpture in the photograph is one of a
pair of figures that stood in the garden next to what were then the
government buildings. They were therefore easily accessible, and they
were described and photographed several times in the course of the
twentieth century. Geyer's image was accompanied by a description of the
sculpture and was made during a visit to the province of Bahr-el-Ghazal.
When the English traveler Richard Wyndham went to Tembura sometime
before 1936, he too photographed these sculptures, still standing in
what had become the hospital garden, and his photos were later reprinted
by Joseph Maes.5Since Tembura was the seat of an
important Azande chief, Marc Leo Felix,6 referring to a photo taken by Wyndham,
wrongly described these sculptures as Azande tomb sculptures (which are
rare but nonetheless documented). Wyndham, in a letter to Maes, himself
noted that these wooden sculptures were made by an Azande on the request
of the missionaries who wanted to decorate their garden. Geyer, on the
other hand, mentioned works made by a Belanda carver for a European. Neither Geyer nor Wyndham records the traditional context
appropriate for the Tembura pieces.7 Their inclusion in the corpus of
traditional sculptures can therefore be challenged. They testify more to
the influence of early cultural contacts and a transformation of the
initial use of sculpture.
Charles Seligman, in 1917, was the first
to reproduce a traditional ancient work taken from a tomb, probably the
first funerary sculpture to arrive in a museum.8 Edward Evans-Pritchard, in 1929,9 was the first to write a detailed
account of the tombs of the Tonj region, and he reproduced them in his
work. In a 1932 volume, Seligman reprinted a photo of a pair of
sculptures which had been taken by one Dr. Tucker. This same pair,
photographed again in 1974 by the author, provides unusual pictorial
evidence of the aging process of African sculpture (see fig. 11
Ultimately it was Andreas and Waltraud
Kronenberg and their research that made the Bongo and their traditional
culture known in the world of ethnography. In the 1950s they lived among
the Bongo for a relatively long period of time and collected works that
ultimately found a home in the Khartoum museum. They managed to acquire
ancient tomb statues along with a few other examples that had never been
used, and they arranged for some of the Tembura sculptures to be taken
to Khartoum, where they were displayed in the museum gardens. They were
still there when art professionals from Lower Saxony worked to restore
them in 1987. Twenty years after being illustrated by Wyndham, one of
these pieces was observed in almost the same condition as in his
photograph. When it was restored in 1987, it showed signs of age (fig.
The history of Bongo sculptures in the West
started in 1973, when some sixteen items were put on the art market
through the intermediary of the Belgian art scholar and traveler
Christian Duponcheel. Duponcheel11 had read newspaper reports of
cease-fire negotiations between the central Sudanese government and the
rebels in the south. He took the first plane for the Sudan and managed
to meet the leader of the rebels who, because of the talks, was then
living in the capital. With his help, Duponcheel managed to collect
sculptures in the Bahr-el-Ghazal province and bring them to Europe.
These pieces ended up in museums (in Paris, London, New York), in the
hands of antique dealers (Henri Kamer), or in private collections (Frum,
de Grunne, de Menil).
A year after Duponcheel, I went to the southern Sudan with
my wife, where we photographed and collected the sculptures illustrated
in figures 6 and 7. We traveled on foot, and spent a great deal of time
questioning chiefs, healers, and, particularly, hunters.
sculptures reached Europe later, firstly by a Belgian carrier (fig. 8,
above) and then through the efforts of a German UN official (figs. 9,
left and 10, below), but these were just souvenirs brought back by
people working in the region. It was not until 1998 that these works
appeared in greater numbers on the art market.
The Origin and Age of the Sculptures
antique sculptures that do not come from tombs probably reflect
localized phenomena (figs. 2 and 4). The Bongo sculptures associated
with funerary practices are carved out of a tree trunk, the base of
which is buried sixty to eighty cm in the ground. They were placed
either in front of or in the center of a grave-mound and surrounded by
stones, the whole measuring as much as three meters in
These tombs were set up near villages, and the figures on
them were fully exposed to the weather. Since villages in this region
moved when the ground was no longer suitable for cultivation, the older
tombs are now mostly lost in the savannah, with no paths leading to
them. The low density of the Bongo population makes it impossible to
locate many of these tombs unless the local people are actively
involved. This fact explains why the post at the base of the sculpture
is sometimes chopped off with a machete: the Bongo, who respect their
ancestors and their ancient tombs, do not want to disturb the ground by
removing the buried part of the sculpture.
We must wonder what
factors have affected these funerary sculptures over the years and what
their life span might be. Carved from mahogany, the hardness and natural
resistance of the wood has lent great durability to these sculptures.
Termites, a primary enemy of African sculpture, cannot harm this dense
wood, and it rarely splits. The sun fades the wood, which was originally
red, but does not really attack it. The main damage the carvings suffer,
then, is caused by moisture, especially during the rainy season. Erosion
usually starts in the heartwood, and many of the sculptures become more
or less hollow. Brush fires every year are another cause of destruction,
as traces on some pieces show, but since the hard wood is difficult to
burn, the sculpture are often only superficially charred. There is no
way we can calculate the age of Bongo sculpture by using C-14, which is
now commonly applied to other African sculptures, because we do not
believe that these poles can be more than 100 to 120 years old. Thus the
primary evidence we have for dating them lies in historical sources and
photographic documents, which have enabled us to identify five
sculptures that each appear in more than one photograph taken decades
apart. Considering the extent of erosion that has occurred between the
two dates, we can gain some insight into the aging process:
I - (fig. 11, left) o
Sculptures from the town of Tonj, photographed by Tucker
before 1932, then again in 1974. They were still standing
in 1974, even if the face of the child is no longer
recognizable, a fact more likely due to vandalism than
erosion. These sculptures were in good overall condition
more than forty-two years after they were first
photographed, despite several obvious signs of wear.
Interestingly, little remains of the actual tombs in the
later photos. The photograph taken by Tucker shows freshly
painted sculptures. We can therefore suppose that the
figures were made not long before the first photograph was
II - (see fig. 5a &b, above) o Sculpture from
Tembura photographed before 1936 by Wyndham (The Gentle Savage,
pl. 38) that was then taken to the Khartoum museum by the
Kronenbergs in 1958. Some signs of erosion are visible between
these two dates. The figure was displayed in the museum
courtyard in 1958 and restored in 1987 because it was badly
eroded. The face was in good condition in 1936, but after more
than fifty-one years in the open air, it required restoration
because of weather damage.
III - (fig. 12 a, left) o This tomb, near Tonj, was
photographed before 1936 by Wyndham and attributed by him
to the Azande who lived in the region. It is obviously a
Bongo tomb that was old at the time of the
(fig. 12 b, right) o Collected in 1999, in poor
condition, this sculpture (visible bottom right, in
profile, in the photo taken by Wyndham, The Gentle Savage,
pl. 17) can be estimated to be more than seventy years
IV - (fig. 13, left) o Photographed before 1958 by the
Kronenbergs, then again in 1974, this tomb does not show
any visible changes. Although the Kronenbergs described it
as ancient, the 1974 photo conveys the impression that the
sculpture is relatively
V - (fig. 14, right) o This pole, topped by a bird (a
shoebill) dates from the 1940s, when the government
commissioned animal sculptures at Tonj. People then
started adorning tombs with animal figures too. This badly
damaged sculpture was collected recently and is about
sixty years old.
These few examples show that while the sculptures do not
always weather consistently, generally speaking major changes can be
seen to take place over a period of forty years. We can also conclude
that once the process of wear has begun, it develops rapidly, while as
long as the wood is intact, changes are hardly noticeable. We can
therefore assert that the older sculptures must have been between fifty
and one hundred years old at the most at the time of
Thanks to the Kronenberg's
research into the religious significance of the tombs, we have more
information for these sculptures than for many other types of tribal
artwork, and we are able to sketch in the religious context in which
they were made.
Here, Loma created the world and all human beings.
Loma, God the Creator, is present in all creation, the spiritual aspect
present in every human being, and every animate or inanimate thing.
Living beings do not have direct relations with Loma, but after death
they arrive in Loma's village, where they will live forever. They now
belong to the world of the ancestors, and wield certain influence that
they can use for the well-being of their descendants.
the antithesis of Loma. He is the master of the forest and created the
mountains, rivers, trees and the animals in the bush. Bongo hunters are
a constant spiritual threat to Loma-Gubu, because when they hunt they
enter his domain and disturb his creation. Although the Bongo live in
permanent conflict with Loma-Gubu, they have no contact with him after
death. Every Bongo hunter erects an altar to this god of the forest
during a hunting ritual, in an attempt to appease him and win his favor.
This altar, which is the dwelling of the master of the forest, is called
ru loma gubu and the trophy tree, or föri, is erected in front of it.
The hunter and his wife must obey strict rules of behavior during the
hunt. From the attitude of the animals in the forest, the hunter can
discern whether or not his wife has obeyed these rules, and her failure
to do so may endanger her husband's life. Obedient behavior and the
proper rites contribute to a successful hunt and protect the hunter from
Hunting and Feasts of Merit
When a Bongo hunter has killed big game,
such as a buffalo, an elephant, a leopard-or even a man-he has committed
a serious offense in the domain of the master of the forest, who will
not fail to punish him. The offender must therefore perform a hunting
rite to appease Loma-Gubu. The utensils used to concoct this pacifying
"hunting medicine" will later be represented by the various rings carved
on the poles erected on the tombs. Skulls and hunting trophies are also
represented symbolically on the tombs. In ancient times, killing an
enemy was a dangerous and particularly deserving deed, which was honored
by funerary monuments. Thus in figure 7, on the
mound behind the figure, two poles surmounted by heads representing
slain enemies, are visible.
Petherick observed föri hung with human
skulls in honor of the master of the forest: "In the center of the
village is a large Circus, where, on a tree, their war trophies-the
skulls of the slain-are suspended." The significance of killing an enemy
in the Bongo world is underlined by a comment by a Father Magagnotto,
quoted by Stefano Santandrea: "It was customary among the Bongo youth to
eat with the left hand, until their right hand had had the honor to kill
a Djur man." These days, buffalo are considered the most difficult
quarry to kill, so it is hardly surprising when horns or even buffalo
skulls are incorporated into funerary decoration.
When the spoils of the hunt are important,
the hunter's prestige rises in the eyes of his companions. A few days
after the hunting ritual, he has the right to celebrate, and during the
ensuing feast of merit, for which he is responsible, he receives a title
corresponding to the number of animals killed. For the several days of
the feast's duration, the hunter must provide a crowd of guests with
beer and various foods. They dance with the hunting trophy and give
testimony in honor of the hunter. This feast requires large amounts of
millet. As the cereal is not always available, the feast is sometimes
postponed until it can be obtained. The more feasts of merit the hunter
organizes, the higher his social status rises. His hunting feats and
feasts will later be marked on his funerary monuments, where bowl-shaped
rings on the poles indicate the preparation of a hunting medicine and
the spheres represent the heads of game killed (fig. 15). The heads on
the top of the poles may, as noted above, refer to the people slain by
the hunter. Poles ending in a fork are erected around the mound to evoke
lesser animals he has killed.
The ceremony in which the funerary monuments are raised,
are in a sense the last feast organized in honor of a Bongo hunter. So
the monument and the feast both confirm the rank the deceased attained
during his lifetime, and ensure that he maintains that rank in the next
world. The deceased now stands before Loma to claim his place in the
god's village. The tombs are erected and painted with ochre; the mound
is surrounded by stones. The number and shape of the funerary monuments
depend on the acts performed by the deceased as well as the number of
feasts of merit he has given. During the festivities, relatives and
guests recite the deceased's hunting feats and his genealogy. Loma can
thus evaluate the deceased; the higher his status, the more grandiose
and elaborate the feast must be. If the ceremony were to prove
inadequate, or inappropriate for the social rank of the deceased, or if
the funerary monuments were unworthy of his merit and titles, the
deceased would be unable to use his influence with Loma to protect his
descendants sufficiently. Moreover, the latter would bring the vengeance
(sini) of the deceased down on themselves.
are very diverse in some respects, Bongo tombs invariably correspond to
the rank achieved during the person's lifetime, and are thus constructed
according to certain rules.
Large anthropomorphic sculptures are
erected in front of the tombs of very great hunters. They often
represent the deceased and even, in some cases, the men he has slain.
They face Loma's village in the east. On the mound, carved poles often
show the number of the hunter's trophies as well as the utensils used to
prepare the hunting medicine. They may be surmounted by a head,
especially in the Tonj region. Often, the poles around the mound end in
a fork, which is a stylization of horns. They too testify to the
hunter's prowess. Sometimes the tombs are covered with broken furniture
that once belonged to the deceased, or animal skulls, or flags. The
sculptures are often embedded with iron arrowheads used during the
funerary ceremony, in the course of which the sculptures were painted
with ochre or laterite (another red earth). Traces of pigment sometimes
The deceased is sometimes represented by only a bust,
as Schweinfurth reports, probably due, at least in part, to the
characteristic style of the individual sculptor. The tombs of hunters of
inferior rank are often distinguished only by simple ringed poles.
Some graves are marked with large anthropomorphic
sculptures but have neither mound nor poles around them. These too
represent a dead person, but are erected only if the deceased was killed
by sorcery. These representations, known as mangir, are intended to keep
away witches. They are erected on the grave immediately after death with
no special ceremony.
Women are not usually entitled to a sculpture representing
them, because they do not hunt. When there is a pole on a woman's tomb,
it is there because a feast of merit has been given in her honor by
hunters. The sculpture shown in figure 13 is one such example, and
represents a famous female magician. When hunters wish to heighten the
influence of an eminent female personality in the hereafter, they can
transfer their feasts to her, and this may account for the presence of
carved poles on certain women's tombs.
Belanda tombs are similar to those of the Bongo and serve
the same purpose. The Belanda, however, are more inclined than the Bongo
to honor women's tombs with poles. Such tombs probably belong to the
mothers of great hunters.
The funerary monuments of neighboring groups, such as the
Moru, Avukaya, Morokodo, Lori, Sofi, Beli, which will be addressed in
the second part of this article, differ from Belanda and Bongo tombs in
style and function as well as meaning. In some tribes, almost every
deceased has a sculpture, whereas in others this honor is reserved for
only a few special people, such as rainmakers. So few people remain and
so little is known of their past that the classification of these tombs
is quite vague. The early travelers made several errors, such as the
"Zande" tomb discovered by Wyndham that proved to be a Bongo tomb,
although very probably the closest neighbors were Azande (fig.
Centers of Artistic Activity
The map in this article shows that a large number of
regional styles exist. This is hardly surprising, given the isolation of
the different Bongo and Belanda groups. Three Bongo Tonj styles (figs.
3, 6, 7, 12, 16, 17, 18, and 19) can be distinguished, as can the
Bussere style (fig. 9), the southern Wau style (figs. 20 and 21) and at
least three Belanda styles-Mbegumba (figs. 23 and 24), Mberidi (fig.
10), and the Abare-Azande style in Yambio (fig. 1)-as well as the
Tembura (fig. 5) and Baka styles (fig. 25).
Theoretically, any Bongo
who wishes to do so is free to become a sculptor and make funerary
statues. Most of the time, he works for his group in his own style.
Specific sculptors often specialize in ringed poles, or forked poles, or
The isolation of the various Bongo tribes within a vast
territory, exacerbated by their armed struggles, accounts for the lack
of exchange between them and the development of distinctive regional
styles. Moreover, the size and weight of the funerary statues made it
difficult if not impossible to carry them over long distances. These
factors enable us to identify the style of a number of sculptors
specializing in anthropomorphic funerary representations. Even the
makers of ringed poles seem to have developed individual styles. This
article concludes with a summary of the main styles of Bongo and Belanda
poles and their geographic origins.
o Tonj I style
left, 6 and 7, above)
The "Master of Tonj" has been quite
rightly observed through his works. This remarkable style is
characterized by the depiction of male figures which have a
sense of motion. The head is oval, and the sculptor has
sometimes suggested a beard. They all wear loincloths, and the
eyes, originally set with snail shells, seem to gaze into
eternity. Often one arm is raised and one leg is slightly
forward. Reinforced by the slight bend of the knees, this gives
the impression of movement. The sculptures all seem to have been
made by the same hand, and the name of this sculptor has been
handed down to us: Kwanja Gete, or Bandja Geti, according to the
Kronenbergs. He was still alive in the 1950s when the
Kronenbergs lived among the Bongo, and they managed to acquire
his last works for the Khartoum museum. In 1974, he and his
sons, also sculptors, were dead and we were introduced to a
young sculptor who made modern funerary sculptures. Very
recently, contemporary pieces in the same style have appeared.
They are generally smaller and are often colonial
representations. Although some of them have undeniable merits,
many look particularly stiff. Perhaps these works can be
attributed to pupils of the Master of Tonj.
o Tonj II
(see fig. 12, above)
This ancient style is
composed of the work of a sculptor specializing in busts. The
same sculpture can be seen in situ in the photo taken by Wyndham
in the 1930s. The tradition of representing the deceased not in
his entirety but as a bust was certainly more widespread in
earlier times; old documentation reveals many more busts than
can be seen today. This relatively abstract style is nonetheless
very different from the other Tonj styles, and the sculptor very
probably belonged to another group. Wyndham photographed this
tomb and attributed it to the Azande, but he was mistaken. This
funerary monument is characteristic of other works in the Bongo
Tonj II style.
o Tonj ringed pole style
(figs. 16 a and b, above and 17, right)
range of this very prolific sculptor covers the same area
as the Tonj I. He worked specifically on ringed funerary
poles, often surmounted by a head. Only one of his many
known works shows a complete figure.
o Tonj ringed pole style II
In the same region, a second style is attributable to a
sculptor specializing in ringed poles surmounted by a head. His
style is more realistic and the head is always adorned with a very
elaborate headdress. The diversity of these two styles in the same
geographic area shows the great stylistic freedom enjoyed by
o Eastern Tonj style
(see fig. 19,
A more abstract style prevails in the region between
Rumbek and Tonj. The heart-shaped, concave faces evoke
sculptures from the eastern Congo and are related to the bust
statues of Tonj II. This sculptor, too, portrays movement and
emotion. The figure's arm seems to be making a gesture of
o Bussere style
(see fig. 9,
The Bussere group, according to the Kronenbergs, has
preserved the most authentic traditions. In their book, the
Kronenbergs show several pieces carved by the same sculptor. The
figures are always unclothed, the body slightly curved along the
line of the trunk. The mouth and eyes are wide open, the face is
concave and heart-shaped. The arms are carved very close to the
body. The strong stylization is quite the opposite of the
representation of movement typical of the Tonj region.
Wau I style (southern region)
(see fig. 20, above)
statue, like the one in the British Museum (see Phillips, p. 138
[BM. AF. 35.1]) is the work of a master who lived south of Wau,
a region characterized by figures lacking any sense of
o Wau II style
(see fig. 21,
This figure shows typical scarification on the
stomach, face, and forehead. The stylized face is heart-shaped.
The eyes are inlaid with metal, a technique that is also found
among the neighboring Belanda subtribe, the Mbegumba.
o Bongo, Tembura
(fig. 22 a, left and b, right)
sculptor made particularly large, impressive carved poles,
veritable sculptures in their own right. The face is always
very expressive, the head thrust slightly forward, the ears
and eyes deeply hollowed out, the oval mouth always open.
The base of the head and the upper part of a medicine
utensil supporting it make two matching parallel surfaces
(fig. 22 a). Another piece by the same artist is shown in
figure 22 b.
o Belanda, Mbegumba I style
fig. 23, above)
This sculpture is probably the only
example known in this style. There have been Western
influences in this region since the 1930s. Evans-Pritchard
wrote about this sculptural style: "Those erected by the
Mbegumba are the finest he has seen in Bahr-el-Ghazal.
They are draped with bark-cloth or a woven waistband, and
are adorned with hats, ear-ornaments, and nose pins; they
are made for both sexes, the bodies well carved and in
parts colored with red and blue dyes. Sometimes there are
three short diagonal cuts on each cheek, which may
constitute a tribal mark." Time has worn away the colors
on these ancient sculptures. Some were given a colonial
helmet, which seems to have been a symbol of high social
status among other Belanda very early on, and is therefore
naturally found on the sculptures. But under no
circumstances was a headdress attached to this statue's
forehead by means of metal nails as was noted by Jeremy
Coote in his comments on the three Bongo figures in the
catalogue for Africa: The Art of a Continent, Phillips,
ed. (1995, p. 137).
o Mbegumba II style
This figure, more realistic and with no metal
insertions, illustrates a second Mbegumba style. It is the
work of a famous artist from the Rafili region, Usta Ukun.
His figures are generally tall, with gentle, sturdy forms.
Another of his sculptures is in the Khartoum
o Belanda, Mberidi
(see fig. 10, above)
Other works by this
sculptor are known,12 identified with a region
further south. The artist also made very tall figures, always
unclothed, with surprisingly broad, square shoulders and
powerful thighs. The mouth is open in an aggressive expression,
the head is covered by a helmet-like coiffure or sometimes a
European hat. Unlike the sculptures of the Master of Rafili
(fig. 24), brute strength emanates from these figures. The
Belanda live as far south as Tembura, and a few small groups
have even settled in the Yambio district. All the southern
Belanda tribes sculpt in a similar style.
o Belanda, Abare-Azande style from
(see fig. 1, above)
Yambio was once the seat
of the Azande lords, so the whole region is entirely Azande.
Yet, tomb sculptures are found here that are markedly different
from those seen elsewhere.13 The face is a sort of mask
placed in front of a simple headdress and has a meditative
expression, and the geometric stylization of the arms is an
innovation in the corpus of funerary sculptures. These are more
akin to the large statues of the northern Congo region than the
more rustic styles of East Africa. The stylized diamond-shaped
headdress is found on some of the Zande sculptures from Yambio,
as is the use of a mask to portray the face. This style is close
to the traditions specific to the Azande sculptures from Yambio,
such as Azande bells and heads adorning harps. This figure comes
from the Abare-Azande, a Belanda tribe which in earlier times
was under the cultural influence of the Azande.
style and the artists whose work exemplified it will be
addressed again in the second part of this article which will
run in a future issue.
o Tembura style
The sculptures that embody this style adorned the
courtyard of the former Source Jubu hospital. They are not made
in a traditional style and are thought to represent the military
doctors posted to the hospital. The style is gentle and
decorative and somewhat naturalistic. There are claims that
there were once similar statues in the Lirangu hospital near
o Baka style
(fig. 25, left)
Baka, a subtribe very close to the Bongo, live in the
region of Maridi and Yei. Only two carved poles by them
have been identified. These are highly stylized and only
surmounted by a
I would like to
express my particular thanks to my wife, Gabi, who accompanied me
in several travels, and to Max Itzikovitz, for his
1. Chevalier, quoted
by Baumann. [back]
2. Santandrea. [back]
Museum N°. Af. 7392, illustrated in Wood's Natural History of Man,
Africa, 1874, and Afrikanische Plastik, Eckart von Sydow, Berlin,
p. 288, reproduced a sculpture (a part of a couple) from Tembura which
was at the entrance of the garden next to the government building along
the Jubu river.[back]
J., Kabila - En Grafbeelden uit Kongo, Brussels, 1938, fig. 23, p.
Marc Leo, 100 Peoples of Zaire and Their Sculpture, 1987, 203.[back]
Reproduced in 1936 by Wyndham, figs. 36, 37 and 38; Kronenberg, 1960,
figs. L, LI, LII; Fendel, Fischer and Maas, 1989, p. 63.[back]
"Gordon College de Khartoum," reproduced in Man, June 1917.[back]
Bongo, Sudan Notes and Records, Vol. XII, part 1.[back]
Fendel, Fischer and Maas, "Grabstelen," at the Khartoum National
in Kramer/Streck, Sudanesische Marginalien, München, 1991, p. 90.[back]
Gero, F., Death among the Azande of the Sudan, Museum Combonianum,
Schildkrout/Keim, figs. 2.9 and 11.1, and also Fagg, N° 111.[back]
Reproduced by Wyndham, pl. 17, then by Maes, fig. 24, p. 100.[back]
BAUMANN, THURNWALD and WESTERMANN,
Völkerkunde von Afrika, 1939.
BERNATZIK, H. A., Gari Gari,
FAGG, W., Tribes and Forms in African Art. Paris,
FELIX, Marc Leo, 100 Peoples of Zaire and Their Sculpture: The
Handbook, Brussels, 1987.
EVANS-PRITCHARD, E. E., The Bongo, Sudan
Notes and Records, Vol. 12, 1929, pp. 1-61.
FENDEL, FISCHER and MAAS,
"Grabstelen," in Möller, H.-H., Berichte zur Denkmalpflege in
Niedersachsen, Hamlen, 1989.
GEYER, F. X., Durch Sumpf, Wald und
Feld, München, 1912.
GOHR, Afrikanische Skulptur, Museum Ludwig,
Köln, 1990, p. 5.
JUNKER, W., Reisen in Afrika, Vienna and Olmütz,
KRAMER und STRECK, Hrsg, Sudanesische Marginalien, München,
KRONENBERG, Andreas and Waltraud, "Wooden Carvings
in the Southwestern Sudan," Kush, Vol. 8, Khartoum, 1960, pp. 275-281,
---. "Die Soziale Rolle der Jagd bei den Bongo,"
Anthropos, Vol. 58, 3/4, 1963, pp. 507-519.
Grabmonumente in der Bahr-el-Ghazal Provinz," VIe Congrès International,
Paris, Vol. 2, 1964, pp. 229-232.
---. Die Bongo: Bauern und Jäger im
Südsudan, Wiesbaden, Steiner, 1981.
MAES, J., Kabila - En
Graafbeelden uit Kongo, Tervuren, Belgium, 1938.
Travels in Central Africa and Explorations of the Western Nile
Tributeries, London, 1869.
PHILLIPS, T., ed. Africa, the Art of a
Continent, The Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1995, pp.
SANTANDREA, S., many books.
SCHILDKROUT, Enid, and KEIM,
Curtis A., African Reflections, University of Washington Press, Seattle
and London, American Museum of Natural History, New York,
Schweinfurth, Georg A., Im Herzen von Afrika, F. A. Brockhaus,
---. Artes Africanae, F. A. Brockhaus, Leipzig,
SELIGMAN, Charles Gabriel, "A Bongo Funerary Figure."
Man, Vol. 17, n° 67, 1917, pp. 97-98.
SELIGMAN, Charles G., and
BRENDA, Z., Pagan Tribes of the Nilotic Sudan, Routledge & Kegan
Paul Ltd., London, 1932.
SYDOW, Eckart von, Afrikanische Plastik,
WYNDHAM, R., The Gentle Savage, Cassell and Company,