Carved ivory tusk


Carved ivory tusk with black inlay. Base of the tusk is encircled by a zigzag vine and leaf design inlaid in black, pitch-like substance. A similar, simplified inlaid design encircles the disk on which a female figure sits at the apex of the tusk. The eyes of all the figures, both human and animal, are inlaid with the same black material. Carved scene at the base of the tusk shows a chiefly man wearing a European-style jacket, with a staff. Further up a man holds a captive with his hands behind his back and two female porters continue round the tusk carrying vessels on their headbands. Further up a male figure is shown holding out a baby toward a female figure, while male porters higher up are shown carrying loaded baskets (described as rubber in accession record). Further scenes include three men who appear to be restraining captive or hostage and a European seated on a chair holding a bottle on his knee handing an African what appears to be a cup. Behind the European is a three tired architectural structure, with a parrot-like bird perched in the lower section. The middle section frames an embracing couple while the top section contains a prostrate figure. In the upper part of the tusk shows two men and a tree, followed by a winged half-animal, half-human, figure holding a spear. The final section contains three monkey-like figures and the tusk is then topped with a woman seated on a vine-encircled disk wearing a conical hat. At the base of the tusk is a coat of arms consisting of two seated animals in semi-rampant attitude holding a perforated object between them. This motif is described in the tusk’s accession record as “the emblems of the Prime Minister of Loango ‘Mafuka Peter’”. Although the imagery carved on this tusk is impossible to interpret in detail, it seems to show practices and social relations relating to the trade in rubber for external markets. The Mafuka at Loango was the royal official responsible for the overall management of external trade and this tusk seems to contain scenes and emblems that reference African systems of moral and political authority that underpinned the conduct of rubber trade of the region.