Royal Scepter: Male Figure, 19th–20th century
Democratic Republic of Congo or Angola, Kongo peoples
Ivory; H. 6 5/16 in. (16 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1972 (1978.412.657)
An important emblem of chiefly authority, this ivory scepter's iconography reinforced the symbolic authority of the Kongo chief who owned it as an attribute of his position. At the scepter's base is a representation of a seated chief who holds a horn-shaped baton in his left hand and bites upon an herbal root held in his right hand. Known in Kikongo as munkwisa, this plant is a vital symbol for a Kongo chief's fertility and his profound ties to both the people and land he rules. Clay-packed botanical agents once covered the summit of the scepter to enhance the chief's spiritual power. Beads indicated around the figure's neck and waist further enhanced the chief's status by emphasizing his direct access to valuable trade goods.