Unknown Mbole, ‘Mbole Currency Anklet 1’, 1920, Berz Gallery of African Art
Unknown Mbole, ‘Mbole Currency Anklet 1’, 1920, Berz Gallery of African Art
Unknown Mbole, ‘Mbole Currency Anklet 1’, 1920, Berz Gallery of African Art

This large anklet, and incredibly designed pieces like it, served as pieces of currency in the Congo. They were used for rare, but major transactions. They were modeled after anklets that were actually worn generations ago, but are no longer worn. Their age is unknown, but similar pieces have been found to be centuries old. They have been popular for decades with designers and any collector who appreciates beautiful form and function. They are now nearly impossible to find. This example is absolutely pristine with no cracks or breaks. Types of Art: Most Mbole figurative sculpture represents individuals who have been hanged for violating the laws of society. Wooden statues characteristically have sunken faces and concave torsos, many with ropes attached to the necks. There are also other figures related to healing or representing the ancestors. Some masks are made, but these are very rare. The Mbole make elaborat mats and beautiful bracelets of brass. History: The Mbole migrated from north of the Congo river, crossing upstream of the mouth of the Lomani River near Basoko before moving south to their current location. In the 18th century they were divided into five smaller peoples as a result of pressure from the advancing Bombesa. They share a cultural and linguistic history with the Mongo, who live to the west and from whom they were separated during the Topoke and Lokele invasions. Their art forms and certain linguistic patterns indicate a degree of shared history with the Yela and Pere. Economy: The Mbole are primarily hunters and farmers. The nuclear family is the main unit of production. Women grow the main staples consisting of manioc, bananas, and rice, and they also raise ducks, goats, and chickens, which provide milk, eggs, and the occasional protein rich meal. Men hunt with bows and arrows, using guns when available. They also build traps to ensnare unsuspecting prey. The diet is supplemented with fishing, which is carried out with nets in the nearby river. Most of the necessities of daily life are handmade by weavers and local blacksmiths, the latter of whom often serve in ceremonies, including initiation and circumcision. Political Systems: Governing among the Mbole is directed by the village chief, a chosen village elder, who has attained a high status in the Lilwa society. This society, the primary initiation and education organization of all males and some females, effectively trains all young men to be responsible members of society. The eldest of each lineage normally represents it in village politics. Villages are autonomous, but may elect an area chief to represent several villages on issues that concern them all. Female political power is maintained through residence rules, which encourage a man to live in the village of his wife. The wife's brother also plays an important role in the education of the children. If a community law is broken, the transgressor is publicly reprimanded, with the most severe punishment being hanging and burial in an unmarked, unremembered grave. Religion: The moralistic teachings of Lilwa society are also the center of Mbole religion. The initiation process stresses the importance of respecting women and the elders, both living and deceased. It also focuses on ensuring adherence to societal norms, which prohibit thievery, adultery, and lying. There are four levels to the Lilwa society, which is led by its most advanced members, the Isoya. The Isoya are the religious leaders of the community, and when they die they are buried in a tree, and a house is left standing empty to remind the villagers of his eternal presence. The wife of the Isoya is also very powerful and is usually initiated into the Lilwa society at the request of her husband. (source: University of Iowa African Peoples Online, Prof. C. Roy)

Ex. Private American Collection (New York)