Inside the Head

Ladle with crocodile-form handle, R. of Congo. To ward off invisible dangers posed by the food, the carver wittily depicts an open-mouthed crocodile on the spoon handle. PM 83-14-50/30211
Small spoon with carved serpent and crab, R. of Congo. Small carved spoons are intended for personal use and are a privilege of chiefs, elders, and other notables. PM 83-14-50/30210
Male statue, Songye carver. Such statues had holes on the top to allow for a composite "medicine" to be placed, for such purposes as protecting against sorcery. PM 17-41-50/B1586
Lemellophone, sanza, Angola. A typical small musical instrument of sub-Saharan Africa. A musician’s intimate relationship with his sanza may comfort against loneliness, and protect from evil spirits. PM 04-45-50/64169
Divination basket on gourd base. Chokwe artisans, Angola. Chokwe diviners seeking the cause of everyday problems favor the types of object found in this basket, representing common afflictions. PM 39-64-50/3459
Hospitality bowl with lid and human figures, Nigeria. This bowl would have held kola nuts, a milld stimulant, which were offered to guests by Yoruba hosts. PM 975-12-50/11806

Actions and objects not only alter the external appearance of the head, but also change the inner life of the person. While European thought tends to privilege the brain as the source of ideas and emotions, many Africans distribute these functions to different areas, such as an imagined inner head or the region of the stomach or solar plexus. Nevertheless, the head appears as a prominent visual element on objects used to effect internal change. 

The objects here display head motifs from three realms of action: initiation (rites of passage) for boys and girls, divination sessions, and invocations of invisible powers through symbolic medicine. In these rites, objects function to change the tone and direction of participants’ thoughts, thus altering their inner state of being. These objects include musical instruments, cups, and spoons.