Singiti (Royal Ancestor Figure)


By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Singiti (pl. lusingiti) figures are idealised and stylised depictions of deceased Hemba leaders. It is believed that the chief's spirit inhabited the singiti figure and that ancestors are able to influence the success and wellbeing of villagers and of the community. As such, prayers were directed to figures and sacrifices of chicken blood offered. "It also provided a powerful ideological message about family continuity and legitimized the political authority inherited by the ancestor’s living kin".1 When not in use, singiti figures were housed in small darkened funerary huts or in the chief's house, out of sight from view.

Distinguishing Features

Common features among all singiti:

  • Made of wood from muvela tree
  • Heavy and dense
  • Massive scale to representations
  • Surface patina of figure shows evidence of chicken blood sacrifices
  • Standing figure
  • Usually symmetrical
  • Arms carved free from body
  • Hands usually placed on stomach on either side of navel
  • Emphasis on the head and torso
    • Head significantly larger than rest of body
    • Exaggerated torso
  • Lower body simplistic
    • Genitalia, stocky legs, squared feet are rudimentary
  • Elaborate coiffure
    • Style dictates rank and ethnicity

Regional variations (Northern Hemba & Kusu regions):

  • Semi-circular headdress
  • Elliptical eyes at slight angles
  • Broad triangular nose
  • Mouth shape similar to eyes
  • Striped or streaked beard across chin

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