Phemba maternity figures, Kongo

Considered among the most iconic images of “maternity” in Africa because of their formal perfection and the power of their presence, the figures of women with children in Kongo kingdom, are commonly called phemba. These phemba were carved to honor the mother of a large family, hailed “as a pinnacle and guardian of all the people”, nlunda banti, a mother who raised the children of the whole community. The ancient kingdom of Kongo is one of Africa’s major civilizations, classical, self-confident, balanced and full of presence, encompassing vast territories in the Lower Congo, the Cabinda region and north-western Angola already unified by the 15e century. Composed of six provinces ruled by governors, this kingdom was led by a soveriegn called Mani Kongo who ruled his empire from his capital Mbanza Kongo (now Sao Salvador in Angola), a remarkable city of up to sixty thousand inhabitants with a royal palace surrounded by a vast enclosure.