The donor’s letter of this carving highlights the dangerous attitudes of the time, which are unacceptable and grossly inaccurate. By reading such documents we have a better understanding of the ideas behind colonialism, ideas we would prevent from shaping government policy today. The description given within the letter is flawed but highlights the quality of the carvings being made available for export.
“The Curator, Exeter Museum. 6th Aug, 1923. Dear Sir, With reference to the carved wood West African “idol” which I left with you some days ago,- I purchased this at a small village in French Congo on the frontiers of the Congo Belge and the Portugese [sic] Territory at the North of the Congo Mouth. The place where I purchased it was in Bicongo Country – the Bicongo being…..” Opposite side “… a very poor and weak tribe and one of which one would not expect any considerable artistic talent – as they appear, in comparison with other African tribes of West Africa, to be of a low mentality. The head-dress of the image is very much akin to that of the Fulani tribeswomen – the Fulanis being a large pastoral tribe spread over the Higher Niger and Senegal Countries; but I do not know of any contact between the Bicongos and Fulanis. Also the Fulanis, being Moslems, would not be expected to manufacture images of any type.” Reverse side “Somewhat similar images are made by the Akan tribes of the Gold Coast, - but are always carved in white soft woods (usually cottonwood), as I have never seen an Akan made image with the headdress shown in this one. The religious beliefs of the people of the Bicongo and Moyen Congo are fully dealt with in the book “At the back of the black man’s mind”, which you informed me was in your library, - it is possible that the book may give some clue as to which Goddess the image represents – if indeed she represents any Congo Goddess” Opposite side “The villagers where I made the purchase were converts to Christianity so the sale of a, once worshipped idol, would be quite reasonably possible. I regret that I can give you no more explicit information about this matter. Yours faithfully, Val G. de Carteret”
Comments made by Dr. Zachary Kingdon, 2016 Damage on the object may be simply due to the carver using damaged wood. This piece was clearly made for sale to tourists. This item was carved by someone who had little experience, and who did not conform to canon.
Possibly a carving of a male ancestor (bimbi). The display of scarification on this figure allude to this, and is attempting to convey ideas pertaining to the nkisi that were once used for healing prior to the conversion to Christianity. A hole for the insertion of medicine is lacking on this item. The headdress resembles those found on Tio carvings.