Yaka Mbwoolo Tchio Figure
Democratic Republic of Congo
10.5″ Tall (26.7 cm)
Jean Pierre Hallet Estate Collection – California, USA.
Discover the enigmatic world of the Yaka people on the edge of Zaire. Unlike their neighboring tribes, the Yaka stand out with their use of traditional charms. Hidden within their unique villages are Mbwoolo-Tchio shelters that house a remarkable collection of Yaka sculpture. Surprisingly, this extraordinary collection remains virtually unknown in the world of art literature and exhibitions of Central African art.
The Mbwoolo-Tchio sculptures hold a special significance in Yaka culture. These sculptures are considered aiebiteki, figures that are used to support or contain special concoctions. Without these preparations, the sculptures hold no meaning to the Yaka people, merely waiting for the touch of a ritual specialist. However, when infused with these ingredients, they transform into powerful “medicines-poisons” that can either “make-ill” through an invisible influence or “make-well” by removing this influence.
Interestingly, the Mbwoolo sculptures are not owned by individuals but by specific lineages. They pass down from one generation to another through a unique process of “seizure” and subsequent cure by a chosen individual. This grueling ordeal bestows the title of ritual officer, the nganga, to the fortunate person. The Mbwoolo initially enters a lineage through the theft of an object placed under the n’kisi’s protection, creating a hereditary “sickness” destined to reappear in future members.
Only the person who first invoked the Mbwoolo or a specially qualified ritual practitioner can unlock its curative potential. The Mbwoolo serves multiple purposes within the lineage. On one hand, it provides protection for the lineage’s property and ensures the well-being of future generations. On the other hand, it fosters solidarity within the lineage through Mbwoolo rituals, and the nganga is rewarded with a lucrative income.
The complexity of Mbwoolo may be perplexing to outsiders, but its significance and impact on daily life in Central Africa are undeniable. A prime example of this can be witnessed in a village when a man falls seriously ill. Despite attempts with traditional herbs and European medicines, his condition worsens. Concerned, his relatives consult a renowned diviner, a Nganga Ngombo, who determines that a member of the sick man’s lineage has stolen an object protected by the Mbwoolo. Following the diviner’s guidance, the relatives seek out a Mbwoolo specialist and invite him to their village. The Nganga Mbwoolo then consults with the lineage headman, and together they delve into the victim’s dreams. If the dreams align with the characteristics of Mbwoolo, a vacant hut is transformed into a ritual house called the luumbu.
Embark on a journey to unravel the secrets of Mbwoolo, one of Central Africa’s most captivating sculptural practices that continues to thrive to this day.