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Amulet Pendant


Artwork Details

Amulet Pendant
circa 1920
2 1/4 in x 1 in x 1 3/16 in (5.72 cm x 2.54 cm x 3.02 cm);2 1/4 in x 1 in x 1 3/16 in (5.72 cm x 2.54 cm x 3.02 cm)
Gift of Candis and Helmut Stern

On Display

Not currently on display


Subject Matter:

This ivory pendant depicting a finely carved male head is attributed to the Pende, who today live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Known as ikhoko, pendants such as this one are in fact miniaturized versions of anthropomorphic Pende mbuya masks and consequently share many of the same facial traits. Carved either in ivory or hippopotamus bone, these pendants not only have ornamental value but also have symbolic, protective, and healing functions as well.

First, the pendants serve as insignia for men who have undergone initiation into the Mukanda, an all-male association responsible for honoring the spirits of deceased ancestors and soliciting their assistance to ensure the success and well-being of the community. Second, ikhoko are worn around the neck of dancers performing in various ceremonious to protect them against the formidable power of the masks that they don. According to the Pende, mbuya masks are imbued with both benevolent and malevolent powers, and the ikhoko will simultaneously ward off the evil forces and enable the wearer to profit solely from the good ones. Finally, these pendants act as healing charms or curative amulets for those afflicted either by a physical ailment or the ill-effects of a particularly malicious spirit. Ikhoko are scrubbed daily with sand to preserve their natural color; as a result, their features appear smooth and polished.

A History of Art in Africa.  2nd Edition.  Eds. Monica Visona, Robin Poynor, and Herbert Cole.  Upper Saddle River, NJ:  Pearson Education, Inc., 2008. 
Maurer, Evan M. and Niangi Batulukisi.  Spirits Embodied:  Art of the Congo, Selections from the Helmut F. Stern Collection.  Minneapolis:  The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1999.

Physical Description:

This small Pende ivory pendant (ikhoko) depicts a delicately carved male head. Stylistically, ikhoko bear many of the facial characteristics of anthropomorphic Pende mbuya masks, after which they have been modeled. In this particular example, an ovoid head rests atop a columnar neck and features a tall, striated coiffure.  It has a large, bulbous forehead, a V-shaped brow, heavily lidded and downcast eyes, an up-turned nose, a wide oval mouth, and a slightly pointed chin. Fine patterns and lined motifs decorate the neck. The pendant also possesses a pale yellow patina.

Usage Rights:

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