Kongo Yombe Maternity Figure
Tribe: Kongo (Yombe Region)
Country: Democratic Republic of Congo
Size: 13.5" (34.3cm)
Maternity figures are among the most renown in African art because of their easily recognizable theme, their classical form and their fine workmanship.
Kongo Maternity figurines (pfemba) are thought to have first been used in rituals addressing women's infertility, and were decorated in a red paste. In Kongo iconology, the colour red symbolizes transitional phases such as birth and death, as well as ritual practices. The figures' mitred hairstyles are a reminder of a fashion once popular among Mayombe men and women; the knitted bonnet or mpu suggests high rank. Women from this region often had intricate patterns of scarification on their bodies, made by rubbing substances into incisions in the skin. These keloid tattoos increased a woman's sexual appeal — without scarifications a woman might be mocked because she was "as slippery as a fish." Filed teeth also reflect the Kongo ideal of female beauty.