Finding Dengese

 

The crazy thing about collecting African art, (or anything for that matter), is the inexhaustible thrill of both the hunt and the acquisition. The week ending 102211 was a good week simply because I finally managed to purchase a Baule monkey statue. “In Baule culture, cupbearing monkey statues, commonly known as “gbekre” since their first mention in 1900 by Maurice Delafosse, belong to the category of amwin, or “objects of power”. They were used by men-only initiation societies for a number of purposes, both functional – as a basis for prophylactic practices, linked to agrarian rites or to a form of divination known as mbra (Bouloré in RMN, 2000: 107 et Vogel, 1997: 221-230) – and iconographic, each type being designated by a specific term (aboya, mbotumbo, ndyadan, gbekre…) ” Sotheby’s[1].  I can only say that I’ve been looking for a decent one for a long time.  Typically the “Mbra” has elongated lower jaws and a very aggressive appearance, but  as I’ve found in collecting African tribal art, the 80/20 adage holds quite well. “The Mbotumbo (Ape god of the Baule), is the person’s special protector, but cannot be purchased in the market (like the Ibo do with their Ikenga), since certain conditions (eg. supernatural signs), must be observed.”[2] This piece is a real twist on the more familiar Baule masks which typically promote harmony, and happiness, (Mblo, Goli masks).

Baule Monkey Statue : Mbra, Gbekre

As luck would have it, I purchased a couple other items in the lot as well. One item shown below was new to me. What I did recognize however was the shape of the “coiffure” or hair-cut, which seemed very similar to those of the Kuba masks, used in Kuba creation masquerades. The Kuba live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Using this information I was able to finally “track”, and identify the piece using the reference The Tribal Arts of Africa.

Dengese : King Figure (Isikimanji)

 

The Dengese figure is attractive for two reasons,

1) the fact that they have no legs, and

2) the scarification on the figure is very extensive.

The headdress, a distorted cone, represents the one placed on the king’s head during his installation and symbolizes understanding, intelligence, distinction, respect, and unity among chiefs. The placement of the hands on the belly refers to the common origins of the king’s subjects, from which he anticipates cooperation. Numerous symbols are carved on the neck and on the elongated torso and arms in imitation of scarification patterns. The patterns allude to aphorisms and praise phrases that encode the mysteries of Dengese chiefly authority.”[3]

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