Arts for Rulers

The Kuba’s sacred kingship and art was encouraged by the rulers and members of the court; artists were honored.  Memorial pieces were completed which were not the work of everyday people and were seen as respected objects (Caraway).  Each king is presented with a pattern that is drawn onto their drum when they come into office.  Some kings create their own patterns while others allow the person sewing the pattern to design it (Washburn , 24).



The king and other royal parliament members have a very prestigious style of dress that distinguishes the members ranking; the king holds objects that are very important within the Kuba society.  The different pieces of clothing show the role that the king is playing at that time and show how sacred the role of the king is to their society.  The state dress is called bwaantshy and is usually made of skins, cowries, and patterned mats which ensures that the king never touches the unsacred ground.  This is worn on state occasions and when the king dies, he is buried in it.  One of the most important parts of the outfit is the raffia cloth tunic covered in cowries and beads.  The belt that wraps around the king’s waist is over thirteen feet long by eight inches wide and is covered in beads and cowries.  Not only do beaded cloths cover the king’s body, but so do leopard skin bags and metal ornaments.  Kings hold the sword of office in their right hand and a lance in their left; because the king is covered in cowries, the Kuba are reminded that he is a descendant of Woot (Cole , 383).


Ndop, or royal portrait sculptures are normally carved out of wood and are the most familiar form of Kuba art.  Each ndop figure is seated on a rectangular base which has intricate carvings; the patterns and intricacy of detail show that the ruler has a very high ranking within society.  A base is used because the King must sit higher than his counterparts and draw more attention to himself.  When a man becomes king, he is given a “sword of office,” which is held in the left hand of each ndop figure.  In this figure of Shyaam aMbul a-Ngoong, the ndop has a sash around his waist as well as crossed belts on his chest, and arm bands; scarification patterns can be seen on the figure’s face.  The protruding rectangular crown that caps the figure is called a shody and only kings and regents are allowed to wear these (Cole , 383).

A ndop is made whenever a new king is invested with office; it is supposed to be an exact replication of the king and is a soul double.  After the figure is carved, it is rubbed with camwood and palm oil to imply a reddish color.  This was believed to ensure the fertility of the king and was kept near the wives, especially during childbirth.  If the ndop became damaged at any point in time, it was to be replaced with an exact copy.  At the death of the king, the ndop is brought to the new king’s initiation ceremony; this passes all of the prior king’s power to the new king.  Once this ceremony ends, the figure is placed near the throne of the deceased king which is in a room near his grave (Cole, 384).