metal decorated knife with long carved wood handle ending with a head wearing elaborately dressed hair
This remarkable axe was the first African art object purchased by Smith College. These ceremonial objects could only be owned by men and women who were Luba kings, titled members of the king’s court, spiritual leaders, or specialized military figures.
A woodcarver and a blacksmith collaborated to make these highly specialized objects. They are worn with the blade hooked over the left shoulder to signify rank during public events. They are also danced during ceremonies and could, if the occasion warranted, be used as a weapon.
Some axes feature the blade emerging from the mouth of the woman, while others—like this one—place the blade at the opposite end. While this design gives the female head a more delicate and refined position, it means she is displayed upside-down when the blade is worn over the shoulder.
Susan E. Kart '96, Assistant Professor of the Arts of Africa, Lehigh University (2018)