A Shoowa Drum
Among the Kuba of the DRC carved wooden objects intended for use by Kuba elite, such as the Kuba paramount ruler and other eagle-feathered chiefs or kum apoong (members of aristocratic clans who hold major community titles), were carved with pedestal bases that elevated the objects above the ground. This feature is most famously exhibited in the royal king figures (ndop) that represented a personage sitting cross-legged on an elevated platform. Emil Torday who collected for the British Museum at the end of the 19th century, collected several ndop figures and also a variety of other objects that were created with pedestal-like bases. These include one royal stool, several drums, lidded boxes, drinking vessels, condiment bowls, and baskets primarily from their aristocratic owners at the Bushoong capital of Nsheng and the Ngongo capital of Misumba.
The Kuba produce several styles of drums that are an essential component of all dance performances. Their appearance is principally associated with funeral rites where dances are held in honor of the deceased individual. The majority of tall drums are played in a horizontal position with the upper portion of the drum supported by the drummer's knees while the drum's base rests on the ground. Another category of tall drum is the lavishly decorated drums belonging to the Kuba monarch's royal treasury. Royal drums (pelambish) were completely covered with beaded, shell and metal decoration sewn to a cloth foundation. These drums were displayed together with other objects from the royal treasury such as stools and decorated baskets on important ceremonial occasions.
The offered drum, attributed to the Kuba-affiliated Shoowa who reside in the northern Kuba region, is stylistically similar to other prestige drums belonging to eagle-feathered chiefs in which the carver has elevated the visual status and importance of the drum through precise attention to surface detail. The base is formed by a central support post with two convex supports or "legs." However, unlike the surface decoration found on many prestige drums which is usually divided into several distinct registers, this drum is lavishly decorated with a complex carved surface patterning suggestive of overlapping textile border strips radiating from a central boss. This visually stunning pattern is repeated around the entire drum visually unifying the surface decoration. Like the surface decoration on other Kuba prestige wooden objects, the carver of this drum was visually suggesting that the drum is decorated with cloth and shell or metal decoration. The twisted rope-like pattern on the two legs of the drum's base suggest the form of the high prestige belt (mwaandaan) worn by many Kuba titleholders.
The single handle of the drum is suggestive of a human arm ending in the representation of a hand with elongated fingers. This graphic design element is a visual pun that is characteristic of handles found on other Kuba decorated drums and is also replicated on Kuba palm wine cups in the form of prestige drums. The slight tilt of the drum can be interpreted as the carver's attempt to accentuate the arm and hand as an important jester.
Marie-Therese Brincard (ed.), Sounding Forms. African Musical Instruments, New York, 1989, p. 111, fig. 43
Joseph Cornet, Art from Zaire: 100 Masterworks from the National Collection, Kinshasa, 1975, p. 91, fig 67 (illustrates a Shoowa two bodied drum)
--, Art royal kuba, Milan, 1982
No author, Utotombo: L'Art d'Afrique noire dans les collections privees belges, Brussels, 1988, p. 222, fig. 201
Emil Torday and T.A. Joyce, Notes ethnographiques sur les peoples communément appelés Bakuba, ainsi que sur les peuplades apparentées: Les Bushongo, Brussels, 1910, pls. 23-26
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