Tabwa Prestige Janus Staff

Among the Tabwa people, women’s bodies are considered to be carriers of spirituality and divinity, so female figures adorning a staff are highly valuable. 

Bidjogo Dance Pectoral

Tribe: Tabwa/related people

Origin: DRC

Approx Age: Mid-20th Century

Materials: Wood, raffia

Dimensions cm: 68.5 tall not including the stand.

Ref. Number: 1700


A very interesting Tabwa Janus prestige staff, a female on one side and a male on the other. The adornments at the top act as a rattle when the staff is moved. At the base, there are also 2 faces looking in opposite directions. A very nice well worn and darkened patina.

Provenance: Ex-Carl Koefoed, NYC. Ex-Rand Ningali, Colorado. Ex-Matthew Peppin, New York.


Such Janus prestige staff’s and adzes from neighbouring cultures in the D.R.C. often allude to the spirit workers looking in opposite directions watching over the chief and his chieftaincy. 

“Historically, Tabwa people lived under Luba domination in small autonomous villages scattered within a territory that expanded across the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) and Zambia, along Lake Tanganyika. Interestingly, the verb ‘tabwa’ means ‘to be tied up’ and refers to when these people were taken as slaves. During the 19th century, the ivory trade brought wealth to the region and Tabwa people gained their independence. Today, they number 200,000 and are led by chief sorcerers who rule over village chiefs and family chiefs. Their power is counterbalanced by male societies created on Luba prototypes and by female associations influenced by East African models. Traditionally, Tabwa people made their living from hunting and blacksmithing; nowadays, they farm and fish.

The influence on Tabwa art of their eastern Tanzanian neighbours is seen in their use of linear geometric decoration, while their western neighbours, the Luba, influenced the incorporation of prestige objects into Tabwa life.”

Baquart, Jean-Baptiste. The Tribal Arts of Africa.

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