Lengola ubanga nyama figures
Democratic Republic of the Congo

I
love these figures with the outstretched arms!
The wonderful Lengola figures display at the
Hamill Gallery of African art in Boston.
I would love to have them all !!
But...I will settle for the group below!
78" tall
Photos: Tim Hamill
60" tall
A really fascinating figure
when you look at it in person.
Someday I'll get some photos
taken that show it's character.
75" tall
A good figure stylistically in my
opinion.
The figure on the left is mounted on the base without it's legs. The legs were very delicate and it was too unstable to mount the
full figure on the base.

I love the form of these wonderful figures.
Old and authentic examples of these figures are very rare. My 3 examples are not very old, but I truly enjoy them for the
forms they represent. The figure on the right is stylistically more "correct" than my other 2 examples if you compare my figures
stylistically to the examples I have provided below of other Lengola figures, but I really enjoy the figure on the left the most.

Additional photos coming soon...
"These figures, called ubanga nyama represent Suway, an ancestral founder of the Lengola. One such figure would have been
exhibited in the center of the village, after the burial of the high-ranking mungamba dignitary, to allow men to make invocations."
(
from African Arts, January 1977, page 54.)

"The Lengola people produce large statues called Butoka, which are made from six pieces of wood and have apotropaic
functions (Intended to ward off evil) and ensure social stability. These figures are used during the initiation of the Butoko society."
and
"The role of these Lengola figures was either to ensure social stability or to represent the spirits during circumcision ceremonies
of Lengola boys."
(
from The Tribal Arts of Africa - Jean-Babtiste Bacquart, page 145)

"Large Lengola figures of veneration are known as ubanga nyama. They were erected in the center of
a village after the death of a chief. These minimalist sculptures are thought to represent the Lengola’s founding ancestor,
Suway. Such figures are rare (Neyt 1981: 38) and their exact function is unknown (Biebuyck 1986:240). Biebuyck suggests the
figures allowed invocations to be made, specifically by men (1977:54).

The figures can be disassembled, possibly for storage purposes or portability, as they are used infrequently.

Typically, ubanga nyama are of elongated proportions, with a small, articulated chest above a long trunk issuing lenticular
limbs. The figures also display cruciform arms framing a concave, heart-shaped face. Most figures were painted at some time.

Stylistically, Lengola figures share formal qualities with the art of their neighbors, the Lega (Biebuyck 1986:240). The distinctive
treatment of the face, the concave heart-shaped and linear features is characteristic of both groups."
(From Sotheby's Nov 11, 2005 - LOT 108)

You can see that the information on these figures differs, and there isn't a lot of information about them. As you can see from the
faces of the figure, there is a Lega influence. The Lengola and the Lega were close in proximity and the Lengola also produced
masks that have a Lega influence.

I am still researching them further.

The Lengola are a small cultural group (not more than about ten thousand individuals) located in the heart of upper Zaire (now
the D.R.C). Their social stability is guaranteed by a sort of structure organized in "secret" societies, the most important of which
is the bukota, which has inspired a highly esteemed ritual art of sculpture. The religious beliefs of this group are based
fundamentally on ancestor worship.
60" tall (without the legs)
Photos: Tim Hamill
75" tall
Photos: Tim Hamill
78" tall
Photos: Tim Hamill
Additional examples for reference
From the book - The Tribal Arts of Africa
Lengola figure
wood, pigment
height 194cm (76") - Private collection
The role of these Lengola figures was either to ensure social stability or to represent the spirits during
circumcision ceremonies of Lengola boys.
From the book: African Art in American Collections
Lengola figure
wood, pigment, 60.5" (153.7cm)
In the collection of The Reverend Raymond E. Britt, Jr.

"Suway, the Lengola founding ancestor, is represented by a figure set up in the village upon the death of
an important leader."

This same figure is also illustrated below
Sotheby's Nov 11, 2005 - LOT 108

PROPERTY FROM THE RAYMOND E. BRITT FAMILY COLLECTION
A RARE LENGOLA FIGURE

estimate 50,000—70,000 USD
SOLD for $90,000

MEASUREMENTS
height 60 1/2 in. 153.7cm

DESCRIPTION
ubanga nyami, of overall elongated articulated form, the lenticular legs inserted at the hips of the torso with pendant phallus
and gently flared at the center beneath the square chest with arms inserted at the sides and splayed outward with pointed
fingers, the head inserted at the top with a domed and a heart-shaped facial plane, with raised coffee-bean eyes; the whole
blackened and encrusted with large areas of kaolin.

PROVENANCE
Alvin Abrams, New York, November 1979

LITERATURE AND REFERENCES
Bradley 1982: 11, catalogue number 7, catalogue of the exhibition, Notre Dame, Indiana, The Snite Museum of Art, 1982
Robbins and Nooter 1989: 491, catalogue number 1270

CATALOGUE NOTE
Large Lengola figures of veneration, such as the Britt figure, are known as ubanga nyama. They were erected in the center of
a village after the death of a chief. These minimalist sculptures are thought to represent the Lengola’s founding ancestor,
Suway. Such figures are rare (Neyt 1981: 38) and their exact function is unknown (Biebuyck 1986:240). Biebuyck suggests the
figures allowed invocations to be made, specifically by men (1977:54). The figures can be disassembled, possibly for storage
purposes or portability, as they are used infrequently.

Typically, ubanga nyama are of elongated proportions, with a small, articulated chest above a long trunk issuing lenticular
limbs. The figures also display cruciform arms framing a concave, heart-shaped face. Most figures were painted at some time.

Stylistically, Lengola figures share formal qualities with the art of their neighbors, the Lega (Biebuyck 1986:240). The distinctive
treatment of the face, the concave heart-shaped and linear features is characteristic of both groups.

For closely related figures see Neyt (1981: 42, figure II.12); Maurer (c 1991: 97, catalogue number 81) for a figure from the
Mestach Collection, and Gillon (1979: 138, figure 169) for another from the MRAC, Baselitz (2003, figure 97). The Baselitz
figure, like the Britt figure, displays dramatic contrast with a light patina on the face and lower limbs.
"Prof. Georg Baselitz before his favorite figure with raised arms"

From the opening of the exhibition "Baselitz: Africa collection "

http://www.kunstdunst.de/baselitz.htm
Lengola figure
GALERIE VON MILLER
http://www.galerievonmiller.de/15%20jahre.html
From the book: Art from Zaire - 100 masterworks from the National Collection (1975)
Cult figure. Wood. Height: approx. 85" (2130 mm). Baluku locality, Obundu zone.
This statue is called ubanga nyama. It represents Suway, the ancestor of the Lengola people. The statue is mounted in the center of the village only
when a Mungamba noble dies. It is exhibited after the burial so that men in the village may make an invocation to their ancestor. Women do not
participate in the ceremony. The figure breaks down into six adjustable pieces.
Example below is of a smaller/different type of
Lengola figure for reference purposes
.
Sotheby's - New York
African & Oceanic Art
Auction Date : Nov 14, 2003

Lot 83 :  A LENGOLA FIGURE

Description
DETAILED DESCRIPTION
standing on a circular base, the elongated cylindrical body with arms held out to the sides beneath the
head with heart shaped facial plane and coffee bean eyes, the whole decorated with black pigment and
white dots; varied and encrusted medium brown patina.

Dimensions
height 28in. 71cm


Estimate:$ 10,000 - $ 15,000  
Price Realized:$ 12,000    

Provenance
PROPERTY FROM THE ESTATE OF HAROLD AND FLORENCE ROME

Aquired from Rene Van der Straete, 1974
A Lengola monoxylous figure
wood; height 55cm (22")
Ernst Anspach Collection, NY
Sotheby's London, November 1987 - LOT 289
A Lengola wood figure of stylised form, standing with legs apart on an oval base, prominent sex,
the attenuated arms bent to form angles with the narrow elongated body, the oval head with long
straight nose, small straight mouth and straight slightly protruding eyes, the face, lower legs and
sex painted white, the body painted black with white dots.
73cm (28 3/4")
Estimated 4,000 - 6000 British pounds
Above I made mention of the similarities of the faces of Lengola figures and Lega figures.
A Lega piece from my collection and is in the center and my 2 Lengola pieces are on each side.
You can see the strong similarities in the faces of the figures.
My Lega figure (above)
A Lega figure with upraised arms.
LEGA (Central Africa): Kasungalala, wood, 19th century,
Museum of Fine Arts, San Francisco
Where would you like to go next:

Rand African Art
home page
Metoko figure page
Lega figures page
Lobi bateba duntundara figures page