Berz Gallery of African Art

Magical Chokwe Janus Figure with Original Fetish Material

Chokwe Tribe, Angola

Composition: wood (one piece), pigment stain, fetish materials, fiber binding Dimensions: 6.8" (18 cm) h Age: late 19th-early 20th century Provenance: Ex Private NY Collection Description: This fascinating and rare double fetish from the Chokwe Tribe in Angola, featuring some crossover features (crownlike hairstyle, facial structure) with their Ovimbundu neighbors, is a highly collectible and fascinating figure. Carved from a single piece of wood, the figures, despite being bound by their existence in a single piece of wood, are additionally bound by raffia at the neck and waist, intimating a further super-spiritual connection and power shared between the two figures. The jutting, cubist styling of the body types is compelling as is the still-remaining fetish charge in and around the waist of the structure; what looks like a concoction of bees-wax, tree-tar, ash, and other organic materials. The piece seems to reflect a male-female duality as it appears to possess stylized version of body parts of each, yet was clearly a fetish once employed to bring power to bear in resolving problems for the individual or community. From our experience with objects from this region, it is our opinion that this figure dates to the early 20th century. The surface shows significant signs of handling and the softened edges of the piece--shoulders, knees, elbows-- are also reflective of handling and use. The pigment is also of an early vintage. For anyone interested in the Chokwe or DR Congo/Angola power figures, this is one to strongly consider and try a bid. About the Chokwe: Ancestor veneration is an important part of Chokwe life, and many families still worship the original Chokwe ancestor who broke from the Luba tribe in the 15th century and founded the Chokwe. The Chokwe are governed by a king called Mwana Ngana, who distributes hunting grounds and cultivated areas; the male Mugonge and female Ukele societies regulate social life. The vast majority of Chokwe objects are decorated with figures and geometric scarification motifs. (Ref: Bacquart, “Tribal Arts of Africa”).