BONGO FIGURE ( Sudan )
This apotropaic figure represents an important Bongo dignitary and was
placed on top his grave to commemorate his life. The notches on the base
symbolize herds of animals and milk pots he possessed.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the Bongo people were a powerful tribe.
They numbered 100,000 and occupied a region of southern Sudan, on a large
plain to the west of the White Nile. The Islamic slave trade dramatically reduced
their population tto 5,000 by the 1920's, although they have slightly grown in
number since then. Bongo elders hold political authority and their economy is
mainly based on farming sorghum and millet.
The reputation of Bongo artists is based on the post that they carved for the
graves of important men. They are cylindrical in shape and have either a full
figure or head at the top. These posts are believed to represent the deceased
and act both as memorials and potent inhibitors of sorcerers' spells.
Occasionally, the cynlindrical base is notched to represent the number of
enemies or large animals killed by the deceased.