Date: 19th–20th century
Geography: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sankuru River region
Culture: Kuba peoples, Mbala group
Medium: Wood, camwood powder, palm oil
Dimensions: H. 10 1/4 x Diam. 7 1/4 in. (26 x 18.4 cm)
Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Eliot Elisofon, 1956
Accession Number: 1978.412.299a, b
Ornately carved wooden containers such as this one were kept by Kuba men in what is today south-central Democratic Republic of Congo to store costume accessories and items used for personal care. These included razors, beads, and camwood powder used to coat and beautify the skin.
Three smooth, raised borders divide the container's surface into four horizontal bands of incised geometric designs. The crisscrossing lines and repeating diamonds that cover the box are collectively known as nnaam, a Kuba term referring to the tangled vines and creepers that grow in the fertile forests of this region. This design also evokes the interwoven cane splints of baskets, and indeed the vessel's shape—a cylindrical body with a square foot and lip—is a common basketry form among the Kuba peoples and their neighbors. The replication of a woven basketry artifact in carved wood is characteristic of the playful invention of Kuba personal arts.