Royal Ancestral Chibinda Ilunga Tchokwe Figure

This imposing figure represents the hero Chibinda Ilunga, a royal ancestor of the Tchokwe people. According to legend, Ilunga, the son of a great Luba chief, wooed Lweji, a Lunda chieftain. He introduced into that tribe the concept of divine kingship and also taught the Lunda the art of hunting. From their union, if rather indirectly, came the Mwata Yamvo rulers of the Lunda, to whom the Tchokwe not only paid tribute but also regularly furnished sculptors who produced many kinds of court art almost up to the present day. By association, Chibinda Ilunga became a culture hero and model for Tchokwe chiefs as well. The figure of Chibinda Ilunga came to represent the archetypal chief who maintains the well-being of his people, and he also served as a role model for men in Tchokwe society.

This figure wears elaborate headgear with rolled-up, flanked side elements as a sign of his royal rank likening to the western crown. He holds a staff in his left hand and a carved antelope horn in his right. Since the hunter chief was the most sacred subject portrayed by the Tchokwe, such figures were attempted only by the most skilled artists. This sculpture conveys the physical strength and stealth of the hunter’s body as well as the sensitivity and intelligence of a great leader’s face.

This figure is depicted wearing an elaborate, multi-connected, crown-type headdress attached to the coiffure and worn by only royalty. The crown-headdress appears to be composed of at least two sections; the front is mounted over the top of its head and extends down over the ears having at least four roles. The back side section of this elaborate crown-headdress is executed with a great deal of elegance with sides curling upwards against the flat back of the head. The centerpiece may have been a comb or pin to fasten the headdress together.

The aged, weathered face is depicted with five old brass or copper tacks and two in the upper chest. He holds a staff in his left hand and a carved antelope horn in his right.

The large hands and feet are considered an important attribute in the status of these types of ancestral figures.

Provenance: This incredible, rare, and important artifact was first collected in Europe during the 1930s and later acquired by Michael Wyman, in 1970. The piece has been dated as mid to late 19th century by radiocarbon dating or AMS method analysis from the laboratories of Illinois State Geological Survey reported by Dr. Hong Wang and also with expertise reported by Leonard Kahan. Other masterpieces of this genre can be found at  the Museu National de Esnologia in Lisbon (see page 113 in the book Sculpture Angolaise, printed 1994) and one in the Kimbell Art Museum in Dallas, Texas.

Mid to late 19th century
Ancient wood, brass or copper tacks
15 x 5 x 4 in
38 x 13 x 10 cm
Tchokwe people; northeastern border region of Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo