Country: Democratic Republic of Congo
Size: 9" (22.86 cm) Tall
Among the most public forms of display by Kuba men was the use of decorated wooden cups for drinking palm wine. Palm wine (maan) is the principal beverage of choice in much of central Africa. It is still tapped twice a day (early in the morning and again in the late afternoon) from raffia palm trees that are specially cultivated for that purpose. The sweet but tart liquid is brought back to the community in large gourd containers and sold by the cup full.
Decorated drinking cups were made in a range of styles. The outer surface of most drinking cups was covered with a single geometric pattern encircling the outer surface of the container. Some examples exhibit a curved decorated handle in the form of a stylized human being or a human head with an abbreviated body or arm ending in a large hand - a convention also seen on other Kuba sculpture including decorated drums.
Some Kuba figurative cups were carved in the form of an entire human body with a large head, short neck and an abbreviated torso, lower limbs and feet. On other examples, the body is entirely absent, at the large head is positioned above a circular flaring base, or the depiction of an over-sized foot or feet facilitates the cup standing alone. The facial decoration and distinctive hairstyle on the heads of the decorated cups are consistent with other Kuba carving conventions, such as those displayed on Kuba masks. A sharply delineated hairline across the forehead, with abrupt angle at he temples, emphasizes the head and characteristic hairstyle.
Some Kuba cups were most likely created to reference their owners' particular occupation or interest. For example, a cup carved in the form of a miniature drum may have originally been commissioned by a musician, or a carved in the form of stacked clay pot, resembling the containers employed to collect palm wine during the tapper process, may have been commissioned by a successful palm wine tapper. A tall beaker with a surface entirely covered with a wavy patterning and antelope heads suggests a dense forest with heads of the elusive animals emerging from a leafy environment. This beaker may have been especially commissioned by a successful hunter.
Some cups assertively declare their owners as members of elite families or as high-ranking title-holders. For example, a cup with a human head and massive ram's horns spiraling out from the sides of the head certainly belonged to a member of royal lineage as sheep were the sole prerogative of the nyim and other members of the royal family.