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Unknown Maker
Standing Male Figure (Bimbi) Standing Male Figure (Bimbi)
19th-20th century 19th-20th century

The Bembe peoples from northern Democratic Republic of the Congo are represented in the Lang collection by two intricately carved figures known as bimbi. Depicting a male and female ancestor (see M84-016), they are small-scale, idealized portraits that suggest quiet energy through their slightly flexed arms and legs. The ancestors¿ status and position are conveyed through gesture or the objects they hold, such as a hunter¿s knife or a musician¿s drum. This male figure grasps an animal horn in one hand; his missing hand may have held a calabash full of medicines, an attribute that often appears with animal horns on other bimbi. These objects indicate a healer, or one who possesses strong medicine.

Bimbi protect their owners from misfortune, thus serving as a bridge between the present world and the spiritual world. Spiritual power is conveyed through attributes such as white, inset eyes (composed of shell, ivory, or porcelain) that allude to the ancestors¿ ability to see into the spiritual realm. The finely detailed scarification patterns that cover the figures¿ torsos often include open diamond motifs, which are present on both bimbi in the Lang collection. A common motif, it symbolizes the two worlds.

Bimbi are not considered complete or functional without the addition of protective medicines and/or relics. A Bembe nganga, or priest, inserts these substances into a cavity in the area of the figure¿s anus. The owners then take great care of their sculptures, sometimes clothing them in beads or cloth and oiling them regularly so they acquire a glossy patina.

 
Unknown Maker
Bembe peoples Bembe peoples
Standing Male Figure (Bimbi) Standing Male Figure (Bimbi)
19th-20th century 19th-20th century
wood, shell? wood, shell?
height / width / depth: 15.70 x 6.50 x 5.50 cm; 6.18 x 2.56 x 2.17 in.
Gift of Justin and Elisabeth Lang, 1984 Gift of Justin and Elisabeth Lang, 1984
M84-014

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