Ndop (Royal Ancestor Figure)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Ndop (meaning 'statue') figures are idealised and stylised depictions of deceased Kuba Bushoong leaders (Nyim). Opinions vary about the actual use of the figures. Some sources state that the figures were carved during the reign of each Nyim and served as the king’s 'double' during his absence. The ndop figures were believed to be kept in the chambers with his wives who took take of it as it if it were the king himself; the figure in return provided fertility. When the ruling king was close to death, his ndop was brought to his bed to absorb his soul and vital force. Other sources state that the ndop was only carved after the death of the Nyim and thus encapsulated the deceased king’s soul. The new Nyim slept in isolation with the deceased king’s ndop to absorb the essence from his predecessor’s ndop.

What is generally agreed however is that ndop figures are not exact representations of leaders past but are instead depictions of kingship. Each individual king’s ndop is distinguished only by his royal emblem at the front of the figure. The figures were used to remind villagers about the power of the king and to welcome the newly crowned Nyim into the community. It is believed that Nyim Shyaam aMbul aNgoong introduced the practice of carving ndop figures in 1650 (he was titled Ngol be Nyim meaning 'eldest of the kings').

Distinguishing Features

  • Made of heavy hardwood
  • Height = roughly 22 inches (generally less than 2 feet)
  • Figures are stylised, depicting the nyim without any deformities of distinguishing marks
  • Surfaces have red camwood and palm oil deposits
  • Rounded contours
  • Figures always facing front
  • Oversized head
  • Some figures feature scarification or keloids on both sides of the head
  • Projecting face
  • Calm, gentle expression
  • Eyes almond-shaped and usually closed
  • Lips full and relaxed
  • Figure sits cross-legged on a square platform (yiing)
    • Square base incised with geometric patterns (ntshuum anyim - the pattern chosen by the king at his coronation)
  • Right hand rests on one leg
  • Left hand holds a ceremonial knife (ikul) held with handle out
    • Sometimes shown holding rooster (symbol of vigilance)
  • Nyim carved wearing projecting hoe-shaped royal headdress
    • Headdress (shody) decorated with carved cowrie shells around the edge
    • Interlocking pattern known as 'woot' on the top surface
  • Circular neck ring
  • Cane shoulder hoops
  • Brass bracelets (ntshyaang)
  • Arm rings of woven cloth stitched with cowries (mabiim or mbuum)
  • Belt with a maximum of four rows of cowrie shells criss-cross the abdomen (yeemy)
  • Plaited belt (mwaandaan)
  • Cloth plaque covering the buttocks (iyeet)
  • Individual rulers are identified by a small emblem on the front of the pedestal at the base of the sculpture. Emblems (ibol) identify the contributions the ruler made to the Kuba kingdom. Examples include:
    • Shyaam aMbul aNgoong: three-row board game (lele - interpreted to mean intelligence, skill, and foresight)
    • Mishaa Pelyeeng aNce: drum with square, circle & diagonal (pel ambish)
    • Mbop Pelyeeng aNce: anvil stand (the nyim was a renowned blacksmith)
    • Kot aMbul: drum with applied square, angular interlace
    • Miko miMbul: slave girl figure
    • Mbop Kyeen: drum on openwork base, curved interlace
    • Kwete Peshanga Kena: fly whisk and tukula box
    • Mishe miShyaang maMbul (Mbomboosh): drum with a severed hand

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