Skip to main content



Artwork Details

Early to mid-20th century
27 3/4 in x 1 15/16 in x 1 3/4 in (70.49 cm x 4.92 cm x 4.45 cm);27 3/4 in x 1 15/16 in x 1 3/4 in (70.49 cm x 4.92 cm x 4.45 cm);28 9/16 in x 1 15/16 in x 1 3/4 in (72.55 cm x 4.92 cm x 4.45 cm)
Gift of Margaret H. and Albert J. Coudron


Subject Matter:

Among the Kongo peoples, carved staffs (often--unlike here-- topped by ivory carvings) conveyed the ruler's political and spiritual powers and responsibilities. At the height of the Kongo kingdom, rulers used staffs known as "mvwala" that drew on the power of the earth and the ancestors to aid them in governing. In the 19th and 20th centuries, staffs were being produced for a much wider audience, including European traders and colonial officials. Simultaneously, the iconography of the staffs is adapted to include foreign motifs, such as the European-style formal attire worn by the male figure on top of this staff.

Physical Description:

This short, elaborately carved Kongo staff features a diverse range of forms, both anthropomorphic and zoomorphic. From the top, a standing male figure wears a Western-style suit and brimmed hat and holds a small box in his hands; below, an unclothed standing female figure carries a child on her back. Further down are smaller figural representations: a kneeling figure in a position of prayer, a turtle, and a bird on one side and a bird, a turtle, a ram’s horn, and a cross on the other.  

Usage Rights:

If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form.