Collections Curator Bryna Freyer tells us the history of the spirit hunter with one of her favorite works in the African Art Museum Collections, the Kongo Bell.
Smithsonian Artifact Featured in this Video
BellView More about Bell
- Object Type
- Smithsonian Museum
- National Museum of African Art
- Ordinary bells are associated with hunting. Because Kongo hunting dogs cannot bark, they are located by their bells. A different type of hunter is the specialist (nganga) concerned with tracing spiritual forces using an elaborately carved bell. A diviner or healer would use a bell like this one in his invocations summoning the spirits to heal or seek justice. The focus of the nganga's power was an nkisi, a container that is sometimes a figure, which holds the materials that activate spiritual forces that aid the nganga.
- In public performances, the nganga would wear a striking costume, jewelry and regalia and would dance to music from whistles, gongs, rattles and bells. The bells' sound came from the action of projecting wood clappers, which are missing from the bell shown here.
- This bell's handle, a figure carved in a seated position, conveyed a message for those immersed in Kongo ritual culture. While today the exact significance of the combination of turned head, upraised knees and crossed arms is uncertain, one meaning of the arm gesture is clear: "I have no more to say."
- Round wood bell with convex sides, 3 holes on the bottom, a stone rattle inside, topped by a seated figure of a man with arms crossed on his upraised knees.
- René Van der Straete, Belgium, 1972
- Lawrence Gussman, New York, 1972 to 1998
- Exhibition History
- Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., April 22, 2013-February 23, 2014; Fowler Museum at UCLA, University of California, Los Angeles, April 19-September 14, 2014; Bowdoin College Museum of Art, October 15, 2015-March 9, 2016
- A Personal Journey: Central African Art from the Lawrence Gussman Collection, Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, NY, September 30, 2001-January 13, 2002; Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, OK, February 10-April 7, 2002; National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., September 29, 2001-August 14, 2002
- New Acquisitions: Gifts from the Lawrence Gussman Collection, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., December 14, 1998-May 5, 1999
- Astonishment and Power, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., April 28, 1993-January 2, 1994
- Published References
- MacGaffey, Wyatt. 1993. Astonishment and Power. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, p. 57, no. 35.
- Milbourne, Karen E. 2013. Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa. New York: The Monacelli Press; Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 112, no. 88.
- Robbins, Warren and Nancy I. Nooter. 1989. African Art in American Collections. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, p. 362, no. 941
- Credit Line
- Gift of Lawrence Gussman in memory of Dr. Albert Schweitzer
- Musical Instrument