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4 / Ceremony and Society

Artist / Origin Attributed to the Buli Master, Luba, Democratic Republic of Congo
Region: Africa
Date 19th century
Material Wood, metal studs
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions H: 24 in. (61 cm.)
Location The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Credit Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art/Photo by Max Yawni

expert perspective

Christa ClarkeSenior Curator of Arts of Africa and the Americas, Newark Museum
Mary Nooter RobertsProfessor of Culture and Performance, University of California, Los Angeles

Additional Resources

Blier, Suzanne Preston. The Royal Arts of Africa: The Majesty of Form. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003.

“The Buli Master: Stool (1979.290).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ho/10/sfc/ho_1979.290.htm (October 2006).

Roberts, Mary Nooter, and Allen F. Roberts. Luba: Visions of Africa. Milan and New York: 5 Continents, 2007.

Roberts, Mary Nooter, and Allen F. Roberts. Memory: Luba Art and the Making of History. New York: Prestel, 1996.

Visona, Monica, et al. A History of Art in Africa. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003.


» Attributed to the Buli Master, Luba, Democratic Republic of Congo

From as early as the seventeenth century, the Luba people had established a powerful empire in the southeast of what is today the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Through marriage, women had played an important role in the expansion of this empire and the creation of alliances within it. Although kingship among the Luba was believed to be a divinely sanctioned privilege granted only to men, lineage and succession were traced through the female population.

As the bearers of kings, women held a special place of honor in Luba society. In the words of an old proverb, “Only the body of a woman is strong enough to hold a spirit as powerful as that of a king.” Given the divine nature attached to Luba sovereignty, the bodies of women were considered an especially appropriate form for emblems of rule and appear frequently in the iconography of royal ceremonial objects, including staffs, bows, headrests, and stools like the one pictured here.

As in many African cultures, among the Luba, the stool was reserved for the most powerful individuals in a community. Only a king or chief would have owned a stool like this one. Such objects did not always serve a practical function as seating, but were deeply invested with symbolic significance. In fact, the Luba held that all stools were modeled on a prototype possessed by their legendary first ruler Mbidi Kiluwe. Thus, stools came to feature prominently in investiture ceremonies, providing a tangible link between the new king and the great Luba culture hero.


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