Bonsai, Feng Shui, and African Tribal Art

As far as interior decorating goes I’ve taken a couple ideas from Feng Shui. The first is avoiding clutter, and the second is the higher concept of facilitating a “flow” of some sort, much as there are different ways of telling a story to one’s own liking. These ideas have come out on the losing end with my love for bright Caribbean colors and my thinking that “Collecting too much African Tribal Art is not enough African Tribal Art”.

Bonsai with Congo Fetish, and Fang Byeri

I put together a quick Bonsai (I know right, Bonsai masters somewhere are cringing) layout that actually took several years of planning, A few years ago I came across a sturdy little azalea that wouldn’t die, despite the occasional nip with the bushwhacker. On replanting I trimmed the roots, restricted their downward growth (using a layer of gravel), then hoped for the best. The following is a brief “step by step” walkthrough of the bonsai potting exercise.

Bonsai pot with guaze and anchor wires

The bonsai pot is fitted with gauze and wire anchors. There is very little science to this.

Bonsai pot with wire anchors – Bottom view

Add some gravel to facilitate drainage.

Bonsai drainage layer

Keep bonsai specimen safe (somewhere)!

Bonsai (Azalea) – note shallow root ball.

Anchor root ball and/or trunk as necessary, add filler dirt as required, water, and position between African Art.

Bonsai with African Tribal Art – Fang, Bwa, Bambara, Kota, Kongo, Kurumba, Igbo, Songye, and Yombe.

Kick back, pop a can, and enjoy the fruits of your labor!!

Hating on Yombe

I  have a disturbing love/hate thing going on with Yombe maternity figures, and to a lesser extent Songye fetish figures.  This probably started in 2010 when I photographed a “phemba” at the Brooklyn Museum, and in a flash I was hooked.

Yombe Maternity Figure : Brooklyn Museum, NY

Tribal African Art doesn’t get more beautiful than these pieces, and collecting really has it’s own rewards. I guess at first glance it might be hard to relate to the filed teeth and all, but there is a deep spirituality associated with the concepts of birth and death that is uniquely handled by the Yombe!

Yombe maternity groups, called phemba, were used in association with women’s cults. While little is known about the meaning of different phemba iconographies, two main variants can be identified: a cross-legged woman with a “lifeless” infant on her lap and a cross-legged, kneeling or crouching woman with a living infant.[1]

Yombe Maternity Figure: Sotheby's 05/11

The phemba shown above was in the collection of Robert Rubin (acquired in 1984), and sold at a Sotheby’s auction (05/11), in NY for $US1.87 mil.

The frustration of trying to find one (read as cheap), pretty much covers the “hate” side of the equation. Maybe it was the Red Bull, followed by a cappuccino mix, but at auction time week ending 11/11/11, I was pretty much as primed to shed some cheese as Imelda Marcos in a Louboutin sale. The phemba which I could not afford, but which I purchased anyway is shown below.

Yombe Maternity Figure

One of the fascinating aspects of the sculpture is the facial expression, and the impression of restraint, and strength, shown alongside the gentle cradling of the infant’s head. These figures possibly are connected with mpemba, a women’s cult said to have been founded by a famous midwife (circa 1770), and concerned with fertility and the treatment of infertility. They are popular among the Kongo peoples of western DRC (formerly  Zaire), especially among the Yombe.

The figure shown, illustrates a person of high rank in society, as testified by her cross-legged pose on a pedestal and her many body adornments. The chiseled teeth, the corded-firm breasts, the close fitting “mpu” hat, and especially the raised scarification marks indicate ideals of beauty and perfection. The double bracelets around her upper arms imitate protective charms called “nsunga”; made of plaited or braided raffia fibers, they are worn by religious experts and by ill people as a cure.[2]

Yombe Scarification/Cicatrisation

Meant to stimulate sexual pleasure, the scars were considered both beautiful and erotic, but they show the strength, nature, and character of the women as well.

During their ritual use, the surfaces of the figures were rubbed with a reddish mixture of oil and camwood powder, both a cosmetic and a sign of mediation. In Yombe thought the color red indicates transitional conditions such as death and birth. The fact that some mother-and-child figures hold or carry what appears to be a dead baby alludes to the close interrelationship in Kongo beliefs between the spirit world and the world of the living.[3]

Another perspective is as follows,

Mother and child figure represents the female ancestor taking care of her descendants.This commemorative figure would have been used to honor the maternal spirit who brings prosperity and fertility. Among the Kongo people, the woman is considered as the chief of the family. Thus, the female ancestor is the guarantor of the fecundity and continuity of the clan or family. Such sculptures would be kept on a family or local shrine where she would be receive sacrifices and offerings.[4]

African Tribes, Demographics, & The Slave Trade Map

Information on African Tribes – Demographics, Politics, Religion, History, Economy, Tribal Art, Neighboring Tribes, Culture, Language.

Aka Akan Akuapem Akye Anyi Aowin
Asante Babanki Baga Bali Bamana Bamileke
Bamum Bangubangu Bangwa Baule Beembe Bembe
Benin Kingdom Berber (Amazigh) Bete Bidyogo Biombo Bobo
Bushoong Bwa Cameroon Grasslands Chokwe Dan Dengese
Diomande Djenn� Dogon Ejagham Eket Ekoi
Esie Fang Fante Fon Frafra Fulani
Guro Hausa Hemba Holoholo Ibibio Idoma
Igala Igbira Igbo Igbo Ukwu Ijo Kabre
Karagwe Kassena Katana Kom Kongo Kota
Kuba Kurumba Kusu Kwahu Kwele Kwere
Laka Lega Lobi Luba Luchazi Luluwa
Lunda Luvale Lwalwa Maasai Makonde Mambila
Mangbetu Manja Marka Mbole Mende Mitsogo
Mossi Mumuye Namji (Dowayo) Ngbaka Nkanu Nok
Nuna Nunuma (Gurunsi) Ogoni Oron Owo Pende
Pokot Punu Salampasu San Sapi Senufo
Shambaa Shona Songo Songye Suku Swahili
Tabwa Tuareg Urhobo We Winiama Wodaabe
Wolof Woyo Wum Yaka Yaure Yombe
Yoruba Zaramo Zulu


Destinations of Slaves and their Origins

Senegambia (Senegal-Gambia) * 5.8%
Sierra Leone 3.4%
Windward Coast (Ivory Coast) * 12.1%
Gold Coast (Ghana) * 14.4%
Bight of Benin (Nigeria) * 14.5
Bight of Biafra (Nigeria) * 25.1%
Central and Southeast Africa (Cameroon-N. Angola) * 24.7%
SENEGAMBIA: Wolof, Mandingo, Malinke, Bambara, Papel, Limba, Bola, Balante, Serer, Fula, Tucolor
SIERRA LEONE: Temne, Mende, Kisi, Goree, Kru.
WINDWARD COAST (including Liberia): Baoule, Vai, De, Gola (Gullah), Bassa, Grebo.
GOLD COAST: Ewe, Ga, Fante, Ashante, Twi, Brong
BIGHT OF BENIN & BIGHT OF BIAFRA combined: Yoruba, Nupe, Benin, Dahomean (Fon), Edo-Bini, Allada, Efik, Lbibio, Ljaw, Lbani, Lgbo (Calabar)
CENTRAL & SOUTHEAST AFRICA: BaKongo, MaLimbo, Ndungo, BaMbo, BaLimbe, BaDongo, Luba, Loanga, Ovimbundu, Cabinda, Pembe, Imbangala, Mbundu, BaNdulunda
Other possible groups that maybe should be included as a “Ancestral group” of African Americans:
Fulani, Tuareg, Dialonke, Massina, Dogon, Songhay, Jekri, Jukun, Domaa, Tallensi, Mossi, Nzima, Akwamu, Egba, Fang, and Ge.




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