Singiti (Royal Ancestor Figure)

Sayi

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:

Description

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 (Southern Hemba / Sayi region):

  • Quadrilobed coiffures
  • Oval head
  • Naturalistic face
  • Eyes wide open
  • Adam's apple defined
  • Collarbone carved
  • Rectilinear shoulders & arms
  • Blocky hands
  • Substernal depression
  • Protruding navel marked with a large circle
  • Some feature chieftain's roped belt at base of lower back

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