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D.R.Congo     
A rare royal Kuba king portrait figure (ndop) 


Height 58cm




The kingdom was multi-ethnic, with the Bushong ruling over a number of other ethnic groups 

The Kuba live in the Lower Kasai region of central Zaire in a rich environment of dense forest and savanna. 
Organized into a federation of chiefdoms, the almost 200 000 Kuba are a diverse group of over eighteen different peoples unified under the Bushong king. 

They share a single economy and, to varying degrees, common cultural and historical traditions. Agriculture is the main occupation, supplemented by hunting, fishing, and trading.

The name "Kuba" comes from the Luba people to the southeast. 

The Kuba call themselves "the children of Woot"— after their founding ancestor: Vansina 1964:6; 1078 .

The Kuba art first became known about in Europe in the 1890s through Ludwig Wolf’s account (1891). 

The Kuba have elaborate courtly art forms, including royal portrait statues, elegant cups, masks, drums, containers, dolls and numerous regalia for persons of high rank. The Court Style is represented in the king statutes which combine stylized symbolism with individualism.

In order the Royal statues or "Ndop began with Shamba Bolongongo in the seventeenth century. 

The images effectively communicate the dignity and sense of command that is the ideal hallmark of a king. 
The King himself was chosen from a lineage, but his son did not inherit his position. 
The enthronement of the King lasted for one year and he had to break with his lineage and to demonstrate his status, commit incest. 
All of the statues conform to a standard model whose attitude implies reflection, willpower and aristocratic aloofness. 

 While the carving of the royal statues was strictly confined the artist found opportunities for expression in other carvings, notably the ceremonial cups. 

Although today most Kuba ethnic groups are organized into independent chiefdoms, they still recognize the authority of the Bushong king. 

This original royal portrait figure is King Mbop Mabline ma Mbeky, the statue may have been damaged at one stage (missing the Royal emblem-the drum) 
and as Kuba traditions maintain, that if the statue is damaged, an exact copy is made to replace.

Provenance: acquired from Kuba king N’boeupe Mabiintsh III and is part from the royal treasury.

                                                                 
King Mbop Mabline ma Mbeky


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Kuba King Mbop Mabline ma Mbeky with two sons in his bedroom at the palace

King Mbop Mabline ma Mbeky ruled from 1939-69



This portrait has become a signature of Kuba royalty and was first published in Life magazine.





Kuba king N’boeupe Mabiintsh III

The Nyimi Mabiintsh III is fifty years old. He acquired the throne at the age of twenty.

As descendant of God the creator, the king is attributed with supernatural powers.

Due to his top position he is restricted by several constraints: He does not have the right to sit on the ground, and he cannot cross a cultivated field. Apart from his cook, no one has seen him eat. Moreover he never travels without him, and his personal cooking utensils.

It took me three weeks to photograph the Nyimi (King) of the Kuba in his royal apparel, the "bwantshy". 

The outfit is made out of material stitched with beads and "cauris" (small shells used an money in Africa) and weighs 160lb. It takes more than two hours to dress the king and two days of spiritual preparation to be sufficiently purified in order to wear the outfit.

The weight and the heat of the bwantshy is such that it is impossible to wear it more than one hour. The preceding king had only worn it three times during his entire life.


Objects like this come along once in a lifetime 

and by rights should be in a museum



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