Wooden standing figure

wooden standing figure
view: left
wooden standing figure
view: right
wooden standing figure
view: back
wooden standing figure
view: front

This cylindrical standing figure is unsophisticated in form and displays a protruding navel. The modest facial features show incised lines to indicate the hair and two horizontal lines across the forehead. The encrustation of the surface is caused by anointing with medicine, in this case a gruel of roots, barks, seeds, oil, salt and water, and a powder known as ‘mbagu’.

The Zande, belonging to the Nile-Congo watershed group of tribes, live over a large area including south-west Sudan, north-east Zaire, and the southern part of the Central African Republic. Their woodcarvings fall into two groups, one of which includes realistic figures and bow harps with human heads. The other group, of which this is an example, are less elaborately carved and were made for the rites of the mani secret society. The austere treatment of the human form is akin to that of Lega figures (cf. UEA 603). The Mani cult began about the end of the nineteenth century in western Zande country, perhaps as a reaction to colonialisation. Mani was a sort of mutual aid society, with rituals to invoke protection, bring good fortune or avert bad luck. Adepts met at night in the forest; they made and used small figures. Yanda (also meaning 'spirit' or 'force'), which were made out of clay or the wood of special sacred trees. A yanda figure needed to be properly inaugurated to nullify any negative forces and to imbue it with the right sort of spiritual power. The ceremony was carried out before the group leader, two witnesses and the future owner, who from then on had to look after it, feed it and give it presents. It lived in a hut with the other yanda figures. This asexual figure is called Nazeze ('with legs') and is illustrated by Brussens (1962: pl. X, fig. 102). At certain Mani assemblies, a special gruel, libele, was decocted out of a mixture of roots, bark, seeds, oil, salt and water; this libele and a powder, mbagu, were used to anoint yanda figures as an offering and to reinforce their power. The crusty surface of this figure is the result. Mani adepts also rubbed libele on themselves because it was a very powerful magical remedy. Yanda figures helped towards success in hunting, promoted fruitfulness in mankind, animals and plants, brought about favourable results in lawsuits and averted ill-luck generally. On the negative side, yanda figures could be used as agents in sorcery to cause illness or even death, but since payment was required in the form of the victims heart or liver, this may not have happened too often. Mani, like many other secret societies, was not favourably regarded by the Government and became something of an underground movement. Mani cells tended to form wherever large enough groups of Zande lived, where far outside Zande country proper. Collected by Dr J. de Loose in the town of Bangui in 1954, though it was carved in Rafai district, Central African Republic, the heartland of the Mani cult. Dr de Loose was Medical Officer in the Lower Welle region in 1952-56, and was thus well placed to be one of Burssens' chief informants.
Relational references:
Burssens, H. 1962. Yanda-Beelden en Mani-Sekte bij de Azande. Tervueren (Musee Royale de l'Afrique Centrale; Annales, n.s. 4).
Object details
Type of object: Figure
Type category: Sculpture in the round
Material: Unspecified wood
Width: 64 mm
Height: 146 mm
Depth: 60 mm
Style/Period: Helen Coleman
Date range: 1900-1999 CE
Discovery site: Helen Coleman
Personal name: -
Role: -
Culture: Zande
Record data
Artworld id: 10248
Current accession number: UEA 248
Former accession number: -
Credit line: Standing figure. Africa, Central African Republic: Zande. 20th century. Wood. H 14.6cm. Acquired 1963. UEA 248.
Recorded by: SA
Record date: Thu, 1st Jan 1970
Copyright: Copyright© by the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, UEA, Norwich, 2002. All Rights reserved