Staffs of Life: Rods, Staffs, Scepters, and Wands from the Coudron Collection of African Art
February 10-March 31, 1996
Cowles GalleryZaire, Luba people, 19th-20th century
Gift of Margaret and Al CoudronLuba staffs often contain many layers of meaning, the most obscure perhaps known only to the bearer. The staff itself is sometimes thought of as a "map" of Luba territory, the decorated flat areas representing political centers and the undecorated shaft uninhabited territory. (The Luba people inhabit southeast Zaire, Africa.) Movement of groups of Luba people, or of historic personages, can be read in the designs that connect one part of the staff to another—mountains or other environmental features may be encoded in geometric design.At the top of this example, a seated female figure emphasizes the important role of women as the foundation of matrilineal society. The pattern of decorative scars on the abdomen makes visible her cultural identity as Luba. The pose of the figure, with hands to breasts, appears on much African sculpture as a gesture of respect and generosity. Beautifully carved and worn smooth from use, this elegant image of power is also testimony to the complexity of Luba speculative thought.