The Teke people settled in a territory lying across the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) and Gabon. During the 15th century, they were integrated into the Tio kingdom, but attained independence in the 17th century.
Today, they live in villages led by a clan elder known as the Mfumu, who answers to a hereditary land-chief called Mfumu no tzee. Their economy is mainly based on farming maize millet and tobacco, but the Teke are also skilled fishermen and traders. They believe in a supreme God. Nzambi, whose favours can be obtained with the help of tutelary spirits.
Teke artists carved figures predominantly sur¬rounded by fetish material, known as Bilongo. These figures protect and assist the Teke and, if a fetish figure successfully demonstrates its power, its owner may detach its Bilongo, break it into several pieces and insert fragments into other figures. He will then sell the new figures to neigh¬bouring families, leaving the original statue with an emaciated body.
Teke masks are worn by members of the Kidumu society either during the funerals of chiefs, or weddings, or important meetings. They are circular in shape, are bisected by a horizontal stripe and are decorated with geometric designs filled with white, black and red pigments. Numerous copies of these masks have been made for the Western market.
The figures carved by Teke artists are characterized by slightly bent legs, a columnar torso framed by arms bent at right angles and an enlarged head with typical linear facial scarifications and a trapezoidal beard. Their height varies from between 15 and 8o cm and these figures can be used either for an individual or for the entire community.
The shape of the magical substances attached to the statue’s body often indicates its function. For example, figures known as Mutinu Brnamba are covered by a cylindrical-shaped Bilongo and are used to assist women during pregnancy. Matornba figures carry a barrel-shaped Bilongo and have apotropaic functions. Butti figures representing ancestors have magical substances attached to them, including the finger nails or hair of a dead person, and are kept in special huts. With their shiny patina, they are gen¬erally adorned with a metal necklace attesting the importance of the deceased ancestor.
Other figures known as Iteo symbolize the spirit of happiness and are characterized by a cone of whitish earth surrounding their bodies (to) and are kept within families. During hunting or trading expeditions, the Teke sometimes wear a small anthropomorphic fetish.
Like the Teke people, the Mfinu were part of the i5th-century Tio kingdom, but gained their independence during the r9th century. Mfinu villages are grouped in small clusters led by an elected chief, known as the Mbe. The Mfinu economy is based on hunting, fishing and farming manioc, maize and sugar cane. The corpus of Mfinu objects is similar to the Teke. but differs stylistically.
Their figures are often covered with red pigments and their heads are larger and rounder than Teke statues. However. unlike the Teke, they do not have beards, but a characteristic backward-sloping bun coiffure . The neckrests are abstract and are thought to represent a highly stylized human figure.
The Tribal Arts of Africa: Surveying Africa’s Artistic Geography
Autor: Jean-Baptiste Bacquart
Publisher: Thames and Hudson Ltd; New edition edition (19 Aug. 2002)
(*1) Photo extraite du livre
Les arts bateke
Autor: : raoul lehuard
Publisher: : Arts Afrique Noire – 1996