Karma, Fang, the Dogon couple, and the Fetish

Business is business, and neither businessmen nor baseballers cry. Financial theory abounds with euphemisms… the long vs the short, risk free arbitrage, and the Goldman Sachs “profit from both sides of the trade” perspective. Collecting African Tribal art presents a dilemma of sorts when one is faced with potential Karma-kazi type transactions. No-one really wins (who am i kidding) …. someone always wins. The art world is filled with con-artists so the buyer is always driven to get the best deal while the seller simply opts for the maximum price.

The following three pieces were added this past week (ending 093011).

Ngontang - Fang Tribe

Known as Ngontang (or Ngontanga), this mask was used by the Fang people of southern Cameroon and Gabon. It represents a spirit of the dead as indicated by the use of the Kaolin or white chalk-like substance applied to the four faces . The mask was used to locate or detect witchcraft, or sorcerers (those who abuse spiritual powers)–but also performed at feasts, funerals, celebrations of birth, and on the occasion of an important communal decision. It was worn over the head or if too small on top of the head. Fang interpretation of the four faces on this mask varies from four spirits, to four stages of life to four relatives. (E1)

Dogon Couple - Dogon Tribe

The Dogon couple piece is actually 43″ high (that’s a big boy!). This is a very powerful piece. The mother carries a child on her back, while the father figure carries a quiver of arrows on his. The couple sit on a stool supported by six members of the family, community, or both.  It’s clear that Dad is copping a feel, but it’s presented in a way that does not detract from the intimacy that exudes from the composition.

Bwani/Mishi/Fetish - Bembe Tribe

This piece is from the Bembe Tribe in a Janus form, “signifying beginnings and transitions, past and future”, (E2). The two faces of the Janus signify the dominating nature of the mask’s spirit. It is capable of bringing harmony to nature’s opposing forces such as masculine and feminine, day and night. This piece could have either be worn on the head or used as a shrine object.

The Bembe has three main secret societies, (E3)

  • The Bwani society takes its inspiration from its neighbours, the Lega. Their initiation process is simpler than that of the Lega as the Bwani of the Bembe people only have two levels of initiates. After the circumcision had been carried out, the Bwani were mainly in charge of dances, songs and handling objects. (The eyes of the Bwani are usually depicted by a coffee bean shape, while the Alunga use a prominent circular pupil).
  • The Elenda society has control over the social aspect of the tribe. It is accessible only to men on the condition that the candidates make a donation to the member with the highest grade in the society.
  • The Alunga society is in charge of the rites that precede a hunt, the organization of public dances, and of social control.

E1 http://www.forafricanart.com/Fang-Ngontang-Helmet-Mask-1320_ep_307-1.html

E2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janus

E3 http://www.african-art.net/ethnicity/bembe/africa-black-life-rituals

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