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Carved Wooden Fetish

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

A carved wooden fetish from the Luba culture in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Identified by A. Maesen as a lukasa, a testboard of esoteric knowledge used during the final stage of initiation into Luba secret societies, such as the Bumbudye. According to Maesen, his informants were unable or unwilling to explain the symbolism involved in the carvings.

However, this item has also been identified as a map in the form of a memory board that refers to prestigious members of the Bambudye, a secret association, and their royal locales. Geometric patterns on the surface often represent lakes, which are metaphors for royal courts and for the powers and prohibitions of kingship.

All lukasa convey a common body of secret knowledge, but their forms vary from one luba region to the next. The variations in their form and design may have protected the information.

From card: "made in the form of a highly embellished rectangular trough resting on five human heads in full relief. In the bottom of the "trough" is sprawled an alligator-like animal. From one end of the trough projects a large human head. identified by A. Maesen as a lukasa, testboard of esoteric knowledge used during the final stage of initiation into luba secret societies, such as the bumbudye. Maesen says his informants were unable (or unwilling) to explain the symbolism involved. (letter to g.d.g. dated 1/4/65). lent to Renwick, 8/6/81. returned 1983. Lent to cooper-hewitt museum, 8/27/92. returned April 1, 1993." Exhibit label from "The Power of Maps" exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt: "this map in the form of a memory board refers to prestigious members of the bambudye, a secret association, and their royal locales. Geometric patterns on the surface often represent lakes, which are metaphors for royal courts and for the powers and prohibitions of kingship. All lukasa convey a common body of secret knowledge, but their forms vary from one luba region to the next. The variations in their form and design may have protected the information...(see accession file for continuation of remarks)"

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Details

  • Title: Carved Wooden Fetish
  • Location: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Africa
  • Physical Dimensions: L: 41cm W: 20.5cm
  • Type: Memory Board
  • Rights: This image was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. The image or its contents may be protected by international copyright laws. http://www.si.edu/termsofuse
  • External Link: View this object record in the Smithsonian Institution Collections Search Center
  • USNM Catalog Number(s): E323440
  • Photo Credit: Donald E. Hurlbert, Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History
  • Field: Ethnology
  • Accession Date: 1921-10-24

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