The Bwami is a male and female initiation that uses figures to reinforce social ideologies. Members must adhere to a high moral and philosophical code. The ongoing rituals using the sculptural pieces reinforce this moral code as well as strengthening a communal bond. The Bwami artwork in human form belongs to the highest grade of Bwami members. In many cases the human forms have distinct heart shaped faces with rounded forms for the body. The numerous incised marks on the body denote the ritualistic scratching of the figure during initiation rituals. The Bwami is present both in the afterlife and among the living. Through ritual, the Bwami provides the bridge between the living and the departed.
The artwork seen here that takes a human form, belongs to the highest grade of Bwami members. The piece was most likely inherited or commissioned by a teacher to give to an initiate. The figure is carved in ivory, a material held in high regard amongst the Lega. A Lega proverb states, “"On ivory, mushrooms do not grow" (Biebuyck 1973: 174), emphasizing the timeless nature of the material. The human figures typically have a heart shaped face with a rounded body, indicative of the rare Bibendum Style. The numerous incised marks on the body are from the ritualistic scratching of the figure during initiation rituals, activating their magala (power). Pieces with extensive incised marks on their bodies also indicates masango (heavy thing). The dark patina that has developed on the piece indicates that it has had heavy use and therefore a powerful piece for the Lega people.
Ivory. 5”. Gift of Arvin Klein. Cat. 2005 AK 3.
Biebuyck, Daniel. P. Lega Culture: Art, Initiation, and Moral Philosophy among a Central African People. Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press. 1973.
Cameron, Elisabeth L. “Art of the Lega: Meaning and Metaphor in Central Africa.” African Arts, 35 no. 2 (Summer 2002), 44-65+9.