Post Lot Text
The 90,000 Mbole live in the region of Opala, virtually in the heart of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their socio-ritual is dominated by the lilwa association. It was only within the context of the secret lilwa society that the Mbole produced large wooden statues. The lilwa is a complex hierarchical ritual insitution to which membership is compulsory for all male subjects of society. Similar to the bwami society of the Lega, lilwa supervises ritual, educational, judicial, social, political, and economic functions. One of the most important tasks of the Lilwa is the initiation of young men.
Mbole figures represent persons who were hanged by the members of lilwa for transgression of rules, and that they were shown during the initiations to inculcate among the initiates the importance of not revealing the secrets of the initiation rites. The figures were shown as examples of the fate of persons who infringed upon the moral and legal code of lilwa. On various appropriate occasions during the initiations, the young men had to touch the body of the figures to fix and strengthen their fear of reprisals; in later life, whenever their behavior was questionable, the initiates had to swear on the images.
Rouvroy is the only person who has made field observations about Mbole figures and has given some details about the use and meaning of them in his article “Le Lilwa. District de l’Aruwimi. Territoire des Bambole” (Congo, I, 5, 1929). Rouvroy published the only known field-photo of the “coming out” of four figures. Les ‘pendus’ etaient promenée couchées sur un brancard, fixée à celui-ci par des cordes passant dans le dos au travers de trous de fixation, visibles à l’arrière du corps.
The present figure was collected by Camille D’Heygere, who was stationed in the Congo Free State between 1893 and 1898, first as a deputy prosecutor in Boma, later as a judge in New Antwerp. This early collection date makes it vraisemblement the first Mbole statue to arrive in the West. The Belgian government presented two Mbole figures to the American Museum of Natural History in 1907 (90.0/5232 and 90.0/5228). Two Mbole figures came to the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren before 1917 (EO.0.0.19831 & EO.0.0.19832) and Antwerp’s Ethnographic Museum acquired 8 statues from Henri Pareyn in 1920.