Lulua Male Standing Figure


The Lulua people, who reside along the Lulua River valley in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are distinctive for their extensive and intricate portrayal of scarification patterns. This is particularly notable because the tradition of scarification largely faded out in the 19th century among the Lulua people. These carvings often serve both spiritual and decorative roles, with the wood figures known for their refined artistry.  

The Lulua people, historically, have engaged in wood carving to produce figures that carry weapons and shields, representing the ideal warrior, known as the Mukalenga Wa Nkashaama. These figures not only embody warrior virtues but also act as intermediaries between the living and the dead, bridging natural and spiritual forces. Moreover, Lulua carvers crafted maternity figures to aid pregnant women, a tradition tied to the Bwanga Bwa Cibola society, and created protective figures for women and children, often depicted holding a cup. Aside from these spiritual and societal roles, prestige objects such as neck rests, whistles, and pipes, adorned with human figures, were reserved for village chiefs, indicating their high status within the community.

What sets Lulua carvings apart is not just their thematic significance but also their stylistic characteristics—complex scarifications, a typically pointed coiffure on figures, and the representation of societal roles through the carvings.

Emphasis was placed on cultural or ‘human’ beauty, that is, beauty created by human beings; scarification was one of the supreme expressions of this ideal. The notion of beauty and goodness was expressed through anatomy as well as scarification and other forms of skin beautification. Large heads and high foreheads were considered signs of beauty. Finally, much like the Luba-Katanga, the idealized beauty was also meant as an invitation tot he ancestral spirits to inhabit the sculptures and use them as intermediaries between the natural and supernatural worlds.

Another characteristic of Lulua statuary is the hairstyle of one or more curved braids pointing upwards, usually one protruding from the crown of the cranium. Costa Petridis elucidates the meaning of the coiffures: "In the Lulua context the fontanels (soft spots of the cranium of an infant) signified double sight – that is clairvoyance and the ability to discern the invisible in the visible and the past and future in the present.”

 This example on offer is particularly large and has an unusual prognathic jaw, bearing some similarities to an example sold at Sotheby’s in December 2018 (lot10) ex Marc Leo Felix collection.

Late 19th / early 20th century
Height: 18 ½ in, 47 cm

Harvey Menist (1930-1982), Amsterdam, The Netherlands (acquired circa 1970).

Merton D. Simpson (1928-2013), New York City, NY, USA. Acquired pre-1983.

Private Collection, New York, acquired in 1986.

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