My Tribal African Art Vibe

It’s amazing… I picked up one piece, and now I have to admit the apartment is literally crawling with African Tribal Art . They have settled into their own groups… adhering to the ‘melting pot’ philosophy of American lore yet strangely dominating my small universe in their own unique ways. Collecting Tribal African Art is turning out to be both fun and instructive. There are many important  values and norms one can distill from the tribal cultures.

Bambara Maternity Statues

Bambara - Maternity Statues


The Bambara maternity statues offer peaceful, even tranquil backdrops of mothers with children playing on their laps. Their poised beautiful faces, on slender necks, slim figures with slight postnatal curves evoke a sense of definitive idealism.  Who would not want to recreate the peaceful scenes?  In start contrast the Baga Nimba is large and domineering, the first figure facing the door, the large head, almost an arm wide, with heavy breasts and braided plaits signifying a mature fertile woman who has had children. This represents the maternal feature of motherhood, the eagle watching over her brood and promising times of plenty. If hope grows the contrast in size is well reflected in the group of Aku’ba dolls from the Ashante Tribe of Ghana.

Ashanti Akua'ba dolls

The legend of Akua and solving the riddle of her barrenness using her doll is now interwoven with the myth of producing progeny of beauty and grace.


The Mumuye tribe of Nigeria produce sculpture called iagalagana which represent tutelary spirits and which offer an aesthetic abstract form that truly fascinates, incorporating a high degree of heterogeneity.

Mumuye Tribe - Iagalagana

‘They seem to be reminders of living together in a multicultural society, one were we are enough alike to be able to speak to one another, yet different enough for everyone to have something to say.’  [1]

Mende, Sowei Mask : "The Renewed Spirit rising from the water"

Not to be outdone , the Sowei mask, from the Mende of Sierra Leone is the maternal disciplinarian – representing the  passage from adolescence to adulthood, and the rebirth in a more developed value system with higher expectations, and greater responsibility.


Nikisi - Protection against "Bad Luck"

The rabbit feet of Tribal African Art would be the Nikisi from the Kongo Tribe. The startling images of upraised hands and nail impaled bodies were used to keep away sickness, bad luck, misfortune, bind promises, and repel evil spirits. One can never have too many.


From the Mahongye, to the Kota, to the Fang the reliquaries were used to guard the remains of ancestors. To the nomadic tribes this was important since their link to the past is the thread that held the value systems in the communities on a consistent footing through the years. The abstract nature of their sculpture, developed perhaps by a need to conserve space, resulted both in beautiful works, and a holistic representation of social concepts.

Fang Tribe, Bieri sculpture

I particularly admire the Fang representation of the “Balance of Opposites” – using the proportions of a child whilst representing a strong powerfully built adult; showing power yet at the same time exhibiting calm. Forces we wrestle with on a daily basis, even today.

Breakfast with MLK, Freud, and Simon

While having breakfast yesterday I was simmering more than my tepid caramel latte. The peripheral irony of Little Syria in relation to the controversy surrounding the WTC mosque had percolated into the propinquity of the indignity that lower Manhattan was developed on the fill of an African slave burial ground. [1][2] This coupled with the ambush tactics employed by  Glen Beck whilst “reclaiming” the civil rights movement, on the anniversary of the “I have a Dream” speech, and the delinquency of African American leadership in allowing tradition to supercede professionalism, meant  that indigestion was already a given.

DRC, Nkisi - Protection against "Bad Luck"

But in the middle of the BEC on the Pannini thingy a funny thing happened. My wife, Michelle encouraged me to try a little grape jelly with my concoction. In my simple way I tried to explain that I was not going to risk what was actually a decent sandwich, and that I was quite prepared to sacrifice theoretical perfection for guaranteed adequacy. This essentially is the guts of the decision-making strategy defined by Herbert Simon’s Satisficing (1956[3]) – meeting criteria for adequacy, rather than identifying an optimal solution.

As if it wasn’t crowded enough, Freud joined the sit-in, postulating that his theories of hysteria, and repressed emotions were a good fit for an African American community subjected to years of images of inferiority and practical experiences of inequality.

Fang - Bieri ; Balance of Opposites

Between Simon, Freud, Michelle, Beck, Sharpton, and Palin  I was only too happy to retreat to my Fortress of Solitude. In my mind I have arrived at a plausible explanation for the BURGEONING APATHY of large sections of the African American community, but the irony is that even the bland acceptance of such would itself be another example of satisficing.





%d bloggers like this: