Teke , Objet art of the ethnic Teke - African-art.net
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Teke

Teke statues have a religious function, but are above all used for their magical qualities. The Teke have two sorts of statue: the Nkida which do not have a magical charge, and the Butti which do.

Teke statues are small in size, between 15 and 80 cm. There are generally parallel lines along the cheeks that represent tattoos. The forms are squat. The style of the statues is ‘cubist’ with angular forms and a helm shaped coiffure. The trapezoid beard is a sign of authority and prestige among the Teke. The mouth has important ritualistic significance; half open but doesn’t reveal the teeth. The arms are usually down by the sides, bent at a right angle, the hands placed on either side of the stomach; sometimes they have a magical charge or ‘bilongo’. The legs are usually bent, but there are some squatting statues. Teke statues are rarely feminine.

Nkida statues represent an important person that has passed on (a famous hunter, a father or mother of a large family, a great cook, a well known warrior, a good fisherman, a great warrior…). This statue is uniquely representative; it does not carry a magical charge.

The Teke from the North West, notably the Tsaye, use small disc shaped masks. These round flat masks, divided horizontally by a strip, are decorated with abstract geometric motifs, white, black, blue, red or brown. Holes were made around the edge in order to hook on a costume made of raffia, feathers and fibres which hid the dancer. Two slits allowed the dancer to see out without being seen. At the back of the mask, a u-shaped roll surrounded the dancer’s head.

Social Organisation among the Teke

The Teke live along the banks of the Congo, in the Stanley-Pool region.

This is not a centralized state, and the authority of the king is above all religious. The Teke king is sacred. He plays an intermediary role between the spirits and the living. He is the guarantee of both fertility and cosmic order. He was aided by three people that made him undergo a series of enthronement rites over a period of two years. The diviner (Nganga) predicted the duration of the king’s reign by carrying out magical processes. The griots recalled past history, such as the justice and courage of kings.  The king’s main duty was to preserve the prosperity of his kingdom by carrying out specific rituals.

Each family came under the orders of the chief of the family who had absolute life and death rights over the family members. The greater the family unit, the greater the prestige of the chief, and chiefs would take on increasing numbers of slaves in order to increase this prestige.

The village elected a chief and this chief was subordinate to the clan chief who controlled several villages. The chief of the clan possessed a fetish figure called’ father of the earth’, which was a large wooden statue. The lower back of the statue had a band of cloth around it, a piece of metal was stuck in the belly button and the eyes were made from two fragments of mother of pearl. This fetish figure guaranteed the well being and the fertility of the village’s inhabitants. This figure presided over festivities and rituals. It was the guardian of order and could exclude anybody that behaved badly.

At a religious level, the village chief chosen to be the religious chief was the most important. He owned a basket containing the bone remains of ancestors and  magical statues.

The Teke often chose the blacksmith as the village chief, he was an important figure and his responsibility was hereditary. The diviner (Nganga), who was at the same time a healer and a witch, was very powerful. He was paid to give personal statues their protecting powers, and to play the role of priest in case of death or illness. His tools were a mirror, several statuettes, a feather duster, and a rattle made from a hollow dry fruit.

Among the masculine Mungala society, the clan chiefs and the diviners (Nganga) assured the education of the future initiates.

To create a new village the diviner uses a magical statuette and a bell. He tries to obtain the ancestor’s agreement when choosing the position of the new village. Once the Nganga has found it, the men dig a hole, pour in some palm wine and then fill the hole in with white clay. The aim is to thank the ancestors and to obtain their protection.

Religious Beliefs of the Teke

The Teke believed in a Supreme Being and creator of the universe, called Nzami. However, they only worshipped an ancestral cult under the supervision of the diviner (Nganga). The Teke worshipped the cult of the genies or spirits of nature. They hoped to obtain their assistance, and when they went hunting they carried with them a small statue to bring them luck.

Nganga means sage, magician, judge, or priest. A person becomes Nganga either by inheriting the position or following a dream. The Nganga owns a statuette containing the soul of an ancestor called Tamakuwi. He is also capable of uncovering witches.

Among the Teke, the cult of the ancestors is very important. The ancestors live in the sacred forests, near rivers, in clearings, in caves…If the descendants do not honour their ancestors they believe that they will come back to torment them, be it with sickness, or mental illness. In order to avoid this, each family worships its ancestors. This cult materializes itself in anthropomorphic statues.

Teke Statues

Teke statues have a religious function, but are above all used for their magical qualities. The Teke have two sorts of statue: the Nkida which do not have a magical charge, and the Butti which do.

Teke statues are small in size, between 15 and 80 cm. There are generally parallel lines along the cheeks that represent tattoos. The forms are squat. The style of the statues is ‘cubist’ with angular forms and a helm shaped coiffure. The trapezoid beard is a sign of authority and prestige among the Teke. The mouth has important ritualistic significance; half open but doesn’t reveal the teeth. The arms are usually down by the sides, bent at a right angle, the hands placed on either side of the stomach; sometimes they have a magical charge or ‘bilongo’. The legs are usually bent, but there are some squatting statues. Teke statues are rarely feminine.

The statue may have been made by the Nganga or the person who wants to own it, perhaps the family chief. It is also possible that a professional sculptor was charged with both the making and sale of the statue.

Nkida statues represent an important person that has passed on (a famous hunter, a father or mother of a large family, a great cook, a well known warrior, a good fisherman, a great warrior…). This statue is uniquely representative; it does not carry a magical charge.

A Butti statue is only effective if it has been consecrated by a diviner or Nganga. The diviner puts a series of diverse ingredients in a small cavity in the statue’s stomach. For a magical statue this might be; vegetable matter, animal or minerals, and if it is a statue of an ancestor, the magical charge might contain hair, nails, or pieces of the dead person’s skin. This mixture is called ‘Bilongo’ or remedy. The reliquary statues of the ancestors are kept in houses and worshipped. They generally have a beautiful shiny patina due to the large number of oil libations, red powder, and fruit and seeds that have been chewed and spat out. The status of the ancestor represented by the statue is signified by a metal necklace.

In order to obtain the services of the magical Butti statue, the first day of the new or full moon, an ointment made of red powder and oil are made for the statue. These rites take place in the morning and might occur before a hunt, a journey, or an important sale…

Janus statues are those of the chiefs.

The form of Bilongo often indicates the function of the statue.

Before leaving for a big game hunt, the diviner calls upon the divine forces. Small statues of between 6 and 12 cm are carried on the hunter’s arms to protect the expedition. Similarly to the other statues, their stomachs are covered in a poultice made of animal matter.

A special statuette, with a cylindrical impasto is used by the Nganga to ease the pains of pregnant women. After the birth, the placenta is buried in the house where the child will be raised. Part of the placenta is also used to mix in with the ingredients for the statue’s magical charge and will protect the child up until puberty. This statue is placed above the burial point of the placenta.

As well as his usual tools (bell made from brass or wood, mirror, feather duster), the Nganga owns a certain number of small statues. One of these, called ‘Matompa’, helps to avoid sleep sickness (trypanosomiasis). For the ceremony dedicated to the fight against this illness, the diviner sacrifices a number of chickens and kid goats, according to the wealth of the village. The animal’s blood is mixed with certain magical substances and is introduced into the hollow space in the statue’s stomach. The statue is then wrapped in a piece of cloth which is attached with a piece of string to the neck and hips. When the statue is finished it is offered to the chief. The ceremony ends in a dance.

Teke Masks

The Teke from the North West, notably the Tsaye, used small disc shaped masks in the framework of their secret society called Kidumu. This political and religious society intervened in all the major events in the social life of the village, notably: the marriage of a notary, a chief’s death, circumcision, an alliance, a judgement. The mask wearer danced alone accompanied by an orchestra at the end of the ceremony.

These round flat masks, divided horizontally by a strip, are decorated with abstract geometric motifs, white, black, blue, red or brown. Holes were made around the edge in order to hook on a costume made of raffia, feathers and fibres which hid the dancer. Two slits allowed the dancer to see out without being seen. At the back of the mask, a roll on three sides surrounded the dancer’s head.

Other Objects Made by the Teke

The Teke also made axes and metal necklaces, notably in yellow copper.

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