The present day Bongo and Belanda are the remains of a number of peoples who migrated around 1600 from present day Chad to Southern Sudan, were constantly oppressed by their neighbours who were better organised and armed than they were during the nineteenth century, especially the Zande, and are now to be found in scattered settlements. Both the Bongo and Belanda are hunter-gatherers who shared traditions, such as the carved posts they placed on graves. Those with carved human figures were reserved for the graves of famous hunters and warriors. Seligman (C.G., & B.Z., Pagan Tribes of Nilotic Sudan, London, 1932) wrote: 'carved images of persons are not erected over every grave, but only over the graves of old, or important persons...'. Wyndham (H., The Gentle Savage, 1936) thought that such grave posts were 'undoubtedly carved by the Zande', but recent research has shown that the Zande oppressors necessarily influenced aspects of Bongo and Belanda art, which can be seen more readily in the coiffure of the female figure in the following lot.
The figures in the Bahr-el-Ghazal region of Sudan were researched by the Kronenbergs (A. & W, 'Wood Carvings in the Soutwestern Sudan' Kush, Vol.8, Khartoum, 1960, pp.275-281) who collected several for the museum in Khartoum in 1958. The anthropologist and collector Christian Duponcheel collected eleven statues with the help of local Sudanese in 1972 which he brought to Europe the following year. Seven of these were from the Bongo of the Tonj region, and four from the Belanda. Freddy Rolin acquired three of the latter, one being the present example and another that in the following lot.
K.J. Krüger returned to the region recently and has written extensively about the carvings for Tribal Arts, ('Funerary Sculpture of the Bongo and Belanda', Winter/Spring, 1999/2000) in which he illustrates a male statue from the Duponcheel group by the sculptor Usta Ukun in what he classifies as Mbegumba II style, now in the Britt family collection (p.98, fig.24). The present example would appear to be of greater age but the overall treatment is very similar. The figure sculptures which have survived among the Bongo are more numerous than those of the Belanda but it is difficult to estimate the number because the area has been ravaged by civil war during the past thirty odd years. The Belanda appear to pay particular attention to the carving of the legs because good legs are an essential attribute of a hunter. The burnt edges of the arms of the present example are the result of bush fires.