Commemorative Post: Male (Ngya)

Bongo artist

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 136

The Bongo peoples of western South Sudan erect large wooden sculptures around the graves of important members of the community. These tall, polelike monuments take a simplified human form: a male figure that stands with flexed knees and, generally, arms held close to the body. The gentle modeling of the body and the sensitive treatment of the face and head give the piece a simple yet natural aesthetic. The eyes of this figure were originally accented with beads that have since been lost, leaving hollow cavities. Its arms are also missing, but holes indicate that the right arm was at one time reattached.

It was common practice among the Bongo to honor high-ranking hunters and warriors by erecting these carved wooden effigies on their grave. It is not clear to what extent the effigies were supposed to resemble the deceased, but in at least a few cases, the sculptures do capture personal adornments such as bracelets and scarification patterns. During his lifetime, a Bongo man could gain honor and prestige through successfully hunting large animals or achieving victory in combat. In fact, some Bongo effigies are even notched to indicate the number of successful kills achieved by the deceased. The post was raised by the deceased's relatives usually a year or so after his death in a ceremony accompanied by a large feast. In addition to the central male figure, the grave site may also be decorated with sculptural representations of the deceased's wives, children, and even victims. The wooden monuments and feast confirm the title and rank attained by the deceased during his lifetime, and ensure that he maintains that place of distinction in the afterlife. The higher the deceased's status, the more lavish the celebration. During the festivities, relatives and guests recite his accomplishments and genealogy, so that Loma, the Bongo's Creator God, may evaluate him.

This work was one of eleven Ngya commemorative posts collected in and around the town of Tonj, in South Sudan, in 1972. According to information gathered at the time of its acquisition, this particular work had served an unusual purpose: set up before 1914 in a market where commercial transactions between Bongo and Nuer populations took place, it was said to help keep trade relations harmonious. The sculpture was given the name of a Nuer ancestor, which has since, unfortunately, been lost. Its distinctive function and location in a sheltered environment explain its smooth and shiny surface, different from the weathered look that characterizes the rest of the corpus of Bongo sculptures. They were each carved from a single tree trunk of mahogany, an exceptionally dense and heavy wood with great durability property.

Commemorative Post: Male (Ngya), Bongo artist, Wood, paint(?), Bongo

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.