mad in pursuit notebook

DISPATCHED FROM THE CROSSROADS

Seat of Power

Luba StoolCan't decide if I'm a mystic or a geek or maybe just taking a study break from, you know, whatever it is I do.

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm just trying to draw what is in front of me in my little meditation space. Now I'm looking each thing up to remind myself where it came from and what it might signify.

This African sculpture stands about 14" high and is carved from a single log. It comes from the Luba people, who live in the southern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

You never really hear about DR Congo, except for massacres and chilling human rights situations. (They are currently under attack by Ugandan rebels.) You don't hear anything about their ancient and intricate cultures. I found a book on our Africa shelf: "Memory: Luba Art and the Making of History" edited by Mary Nooter Robers and Allen F. Roberts.

This stool (which functions in our house as a pedestal for candles and coffee cups) is actually a receptacle for the soul of a Luba village king. (I'm skimming through this giant book to zero in on the stools.) It is literally the seat of power, though rarely, if ever, sat upon. The stool is presented at the moment of the king's investiture -- it is placed on a leopard skin and the heroic king sits upon it to take his oath of office. The beautiful carved woman, with her elegant coiffure, beads, and cosmetic scarifications represents physical perfection and draws the spirits to the occasion. From then on, the stool is never shown, except wrapped in a white cloth. (It is not meant for human eyes.) Some chieftains hide their stools in other villages to avoid theft.

I wonder how this very sacred object made its way from deepest central Africa onto the artifact market and into a cargo container bound for Rochester. We've found that disrupted traditional societies often lose their treasures -- whether voluntarily, when they see an opportunity for cash or when they convert, say, to Christianity, or involuntarily through looting. I hope our Luba stool was sent away by its owner to be protected. I hope it was not snatched away. Whichever is the case, the king is safe with us tonight.

1.18.2009

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