Kasangala (Arbiter Figure)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:

Bwami is a central initiation society that governs the lives of the Lega people. Bwami is believed to strengthen the bonds of community by ways of teaching morality through performances, dances, and objects. The Bwami association includes five society grades, which include:

  1. Bwali (meaning 'circumcision'; the prerequisite association for joining Bwami where initiates are circumcised (between the ages of 12 and 20) and are thought lessons on the values and behaviours expected to Bwami members);
  2. Kongobulumbu the lowest grade of Bwami followed by a short ceremony where recently circumcised initiates are given even greater knowledge about the association;
  3. Ngandu is the highest grade in some communities (of which bombwa is the female equivalent);
  4. Yananio level consists of two sub-groups, the musagi wa yananio and the lutumbo iwa yananio (bulonda is the female equivalent) and,
  5. Kindi which is the most senior level of Bwami, sub-divided into three grades, kyogo kya kindi, musagi wa kindi and finally lutumbo iwa kindi. Bunyamwa is the equivalent kindi grade for women.

In order to be considered someone with full insight into ancestral teachings, a Lega man must pass all voluntary initiation societies. However, not all members reach the highest grades of Bwami. The few who do enter the moral and philosophical elite, however, are entitled to certain emblems defining their status. These emblems include carved wood or ivory sculptures that employ proverbs or aphorisms about moral perfection.

Each initiation society has its own associated objects and sculptures that a teacher uses in initiation to communicate different lessons and values through layered metaphors. Only rarely and primarily in the higher-level initiations is a single meaning communicated through an object. This is exemplified by the multiheaded figure called sakimatwematwe, which means “many heads.” This figure illustrates the proverb, “Many heads have seen an elephant on the other side of the large river.” The saying communicates an ability high-level Bwami members should possess as a result of the initiation process: to see in many different directions and to be wise and fair-minded.

Kasangala figures remind Bwami initiates of the right kindi members, the highest grade in Bwami, have to judge and settle community matters. With hands pointed to the sky, the figures are said to remind initiates of the saying, "What shoots up straight; I have arbitrated Igulu ('the sky'); I have arbitrated something big," a saying that calls to the immensity of problems solved by the kindi in the past.

Distinguishing Features

  • Made of wood
  • Each face is oval in shape
  • Small slits or holes for eyes
  • One or both arms raised
  • Paddle-like hands
  • Fingers indicated
  • Generalised feet

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