Sakimatwemtwe (‘Multi-Headed’ 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.

Sakimatwematwe is a symbol of the wisdom, discernment, and fairness of the Kindi, one of the highest grades in Bwami. The multi-headed figure also speaks to the inability of anyone to act alone. In order to move up in Bwami, a man needs the support of others. This idea suggests that completeness and accomplishment only follow when the connection one has to others are honoured and utilised.

Distinguishing Features

  • Come in a variety of styles
  • Multiple heads
    • Formed of two to twelve heads
    • Each head has a carved face
    • Each face is oval in shape
    • Small slits or holes for eyes
    • Long narrow nose beginning at crown of forehead
    • Some have a small hole for mouth
  • Can have a body or not
  • Some figures have one arm (reflecting downfall of a high-level Bwami member and a reminder to other members that attaining a high grade does not guarantee future success)
  • Lack sexual characteristics (reflects merging of genders that occurs in higher levels of Bwami)

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