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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Ngunja (throne)

Ngunja (throne)

Each rung of this throne sets a stage upon which it is appropriate for a Chokwe ruler to sit. It can be seen as an entertaining illustration of Chowke life, but some researchers speak of it as a seat of integrated symbolism. Surmounting the stage, at the top of the chair are two masked character's heads, known as Cihongo, spirit of wealth, and Cikunza, lord of initiation. At the bottom of the chair is a scene from the most crucial moment in the mukanda (initiation camp) when a boy is being leaning back after being circumcised while a man behind him is prepared with a gourd of medicines to be applied to his wound.

A close look at other rungs reveals many encounters in miniature. Musicians drum, hammocks are being carried, a man reaches over and grabs a woman's breast, couples embrace and are interrupted by started onlookers, and a gun is pointed into a dog's rear. Sexual scenes relate to the time of a boys initiation when he is taught about social and moral traditions. Given that this chari served as a throne, it may demonstrate the range of human behavior over which the leader is expected to monitor if not mediate disputes.
Wood, brass, raffia cloth
51 1/2 x 15 13/16 x 14 9/16 in. (130.8 x 40.1 x 37 cm)
Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company
Not currently on view


Exhibition HistoryLos Angeles, California, Frederick S. Wight Art Gallery, University of California, African Art in Motion: Icon and Act, Jan. 20 - Mar. 17, 1974 (Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, May 5 - Sept. 22, 1974). Text by Robert Farris Thompson. No cat. no., pp. 90-91, reproduced pl. 121 (as chair).

Birmingham, Alabama, Birmingham Museum of Art, Chokwe! Art and Initiation Among Chokwe and Related Peoples, Nov. 1, 1998 - Jan. 16, 2000.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, The Untold Story, Nov. 14, 2003 - Nov. 14, 2004.

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

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