Item No: A20143
About this item:
Height: 65cm (25.6 inches)
Origin: Nyamwezi People, Tanzania
Date: 19th Century
Photographed and offered for sale is this super, Nyamwezi figure. The high legged, slender figure has a simplified body with the exception of defined buttocks and toes. The whole has been carved from a single piece of timber and the arms have then been separated and reattached with threaded nails, to form moveable joints. The narrow head with bulbous forehead and crown is carved with deep-set eyes, pierced ears and a large, open mouth with bared teeth.
Used as a device during ancestor worship, these wonderfully idiosyncratic ‘dance’ figures beautifully exemplify the dynamic, exuberance of Nyamawezi art.
Condition: The figure shows significant signs of use and age wear. The toes to the right foot are missing as well as the left ear, lower right arm (from the jointed elbow) and part of the nose. There is some insect damage and general, wear and tear from enthusiastic use.
Background: The Nyamwezi people are the second-largest ethnic group in Tanzania (after the Sukuma) with a population of around 1.5 million. They have their homeland in the western and central regions of Tanzania and the name Nyamwezi, of Swahili origin, translates as ‘People Of The Moon’ (or less literally ‘People Of The West’).
Despite persistent conversion attempts by both Islam & Christianity, the Nyamwezi people maintain a traditional culture and religion, consisting of a pantheon of deities such as Likube (High God), Limatunda (Creator), Limi (the Sun) and Liwelolo (the Universe). However, their highly diverse society, a result of both the wide area they inhabit and extensive travelling, is far more suited to ancestor worship which has become a far more frequent practice. Presided over by diviners, who act as councillors and medical practitioners in Nyamwezi culture, ancestor worship is an energetic affair from which these figures get their idiomatic name of ‘dance’ figures.