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Luba-Shankandi Ceremonial Axe Kibike or Kasolwa

Luba-Shankandi Ceremonial Axe Kibike or Kasolwa

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Luba-Shankandi people, early 20th century, Katanga or Kalundwe, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Finely constructed ceremonial axe, kibike (called also kibiki or kasolwawith a wood shaft terminating in a graceful, coiled female figurine with classical Luba hairstyle and scarfications all over the body. Elaborate plaited coiffure indicates her high rank. The blade emerging directly from the mouth is a symbol of power of chiefs to strike and kill with words, the command that can take life. Ceremonial axes with finely carved female figurines (or just heads) belonged not only to Luba kings and chiefs but also female spirit mediums, secret association members, and diviners. The blade is coarse forged iron, which highlights this attractive, high ranked woman’s attributes and traditional beauty. Ceremonial axes were worn over the shoulder to indicate status and authority, and were also wielded in dance and other ceremonies of the court.

The Luba people are cluster of peoples who inhabit a wide areas of south-central Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their kingdoms were at their zenith between the 17th and 19th century. The Luba traditional religious beliefs included the concept of universal creator (Shakapanga), a Supreme Being (Leza), a natural world and a supernatural world. The supernatural world was where ancestral spirits (bankambo) and other spirits (mikishi, bavidye) lived, and what one joined the afterlife if one lived an ethical life (mwikadilo muyampe). The Luba religions accepts the possibility of communion between the living and the dead. The religious life included prayers, community singing, dances, offerings, rites of passage rituals and invocations. These rituals and services had intermediaries for rites such as priests (nsengha and kitobo). In addition, for anxiety and ailments, a healer (nganga) and the witch (mfwintshi) were in service who would perform divination (lubuko).

The Luba Shankandi are renowned wood-carvers; they are especially known for their carvings of anthropomorphic figures, caryatid stools, ceremonial axes, and headrests. Luba blacksmiths are regarded as holders of secret knowledge, possessing skills that according to their lore have been handed down from a mythological hero. The female shape is common in Luba art as women hold high status serving as life-giving mothers, priestesses and other high ranking officials. In addition only a woman’s body was believed to be strong enough to embody the spirit of a deceased king. Fantastic aged ceremonial axe are in excellent condition. Agre-related wear and signs of ceremonial use. Wood are dyed dark brown. Beautiful smoothed and polished patina. Shaft approx. 45,0cm x 5,9cm and the iron blade 17,5cm x 17,5cm.

For a similar examples see:

Axe, Arts of Africa, Brooklyn Museum, Accession Number: 75.82.4 (

Ceremonial Axe with Human Head, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Accession number: 91.1451 (

References and further reading:

Luba: Visions of Africa, Mary Roberts & Allen F. Roberts, Publisher: 5 Continents Editions Srl, 2007.

Luba, Mutombo Nkulu-N'Sengha, Encyclopedia Britannica, 2 Dec. 2018. (

History of Art in Africa: Second Edition, Monica Blackmun Visona, Robin Poynor and Herbert M. Cole, Publisher: Prentice Hall, 2007.

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