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Tabwa occupy the west coast of Lake Tanganyika and some part of the northeastern Zambia. They are led by chiefs-sorcerers who rule over village chiefs and family chiefs. Traditionally, Tabwa people made their living from hunting and blacksmithing; nowadays they cultivate millet, manioc, and corn, but they live primarily off fishing and hunting. The Tabwa carved wooden figures to represent ancestors, great shamanistic healers and earth spirits. Called mipasi or mikisi, such figures were kept by lineage elders in special buildings within their components, where the elders sometimes slept to receive ancestral inspiration in their dreams. The figures had powers to heal and protect. The mipasi might be placed near a sick person, or at the entrance to the village as a silent sentinel: they might be deployed in litigation, to ensure that a defendant told the truth, or placed near blacksmiths’ forges or on hunting shrines, to keep evil forces from disrupting the processes of work. The lower part of the figure’s body is made from a kind of gourd.
Exhibited at “Celebrating African-American Heritage”
AlfaArt Gallery, New Brunswick, NJ February 2014