Bari figure

Bari figure
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
Cultural Group:
Bongo? Bari?
Date Made:
By 1863?
Wood Plant
Carved , Burnt , ?Stained , Burnished
Max L = 385 mm, W between ears 56.5 mm, W neck = 32.7 mm, W shoulders = 67 mm, W pelvis = 38.2 mm; th head = 59.7, th legs = 16.8 mm [RTS 28/9/2004].
327 g
Other Owners:
Wood implies that this figure was collected by John Petherick; if it is correctly identified as a Bari object, this probably took place while he passed through Bari territory between 1862 and 1863; it had entered Pitt Rivers' collection by 1874, when Wood
Field Collector:
?John Petherick
PRM Source:
Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers founding collection
Donated 1884
Collected Date:
?1862 - 3
Male figure carved from a single piece of wood and consisting of an ovoid head, slightly pointed at the top and with a smoothly rounded back. This slopes down at the front to form a rounded forehead with two narrow lentoid shaped eyes cut into the surface below. The central part of the face has been carved to create a broad tapering nose with flat underside, pierced with two circular depressions to mark the nostrils. Beneath this there is a protruding jaw that slopes in to the centre, where a small lentoid shaped depression forms a pouting mouth. The underside of the chin is flat and sharply undercut. Two circular ears protrude from either side of the head, with tapering depressions cut or burnt into the centre of each, and shallower grooves running around their flattened outer faces. The neck of the figure is marked by a shallow groove, with a straight, narrow body extending below. This has a cylindrical torso with sharply angled shoulders and two arms that hang down on either side, parallel to the body. The arms are carved in the round, and have bulges two thirds the way down their length that may be intended to represent elbows; they taper out slightly at their bases to form splaying, slightly flattened hands. V shaped cuts have shaped the digits; there are 5 on each hand. The torso itself is rounded, with an oval navel standing out from the surface, and a tapering penis projecting out slightly from its base; the base of this is cut at an angle and has a small depression at its centre. Shorter testes have been carved behind, with a deeper circular depression carved into the wood behind these. The buttocks are indicated on the back, standing out from the line of the body, and separated with a deep groove. The legs are narrow and carved in the round, but with no attempt at showing either knee or calves; these angle out slightly from the body in straight lines, with the feet positioned apart and pointing to the front. The heels are delineated from the lower part of the leg, and the soles of the feet are angled with the toes pointing downwards, and on the left leg, slightly in, so that the figure cannot stand unaided. Toes have been marked by v-shaped cuts in the same way as the fingers; there are 5 digits on each foot.

The figure is nearly complete, except for the back of its right ear, which is missing. Faint scorch marks around the edges of the mouth and other orifices suggest that these may have been burnt into the wood using a hot metal tool; this was probably also used to create the figure's fingers and toes. There is a long narrow cracking running down the back, and damage to the torso in the form of three holes. One of these has an iron nail in place. It is not clear if these are original, or were added later as a means of fixing a label to the front. There are traces of red ochre with mica mixed in over parts of the surface; this is also present in one nostril and the mouth. In some areas the surface is also covered with a dark brown or black material, heavily crazed, and apparently a separate layer on top of the wood. It is not clear if this is part of the same ochre coating, or above it. The wood appears to have been burnished. It is largely a reddish brown colour, probably due to the ochre (Pantone 7525C), but a more yellowish brown is visible in areas and probably is closer to the original colour of the wood (Pantone 724C). The figure has a weight of 327 grams, is 385 mm long, 56.5 mm wide between the ears, 32.7 mm wide across the neck, 67 mm wide across the shoulders and 38.2 mm wide across the pelvis, with a thickness ranging from 59.7 mm at the nose, to 16.8 mm at the legs.

Museum records do not state the original collector or cultural attribution for this object, but it seems to be the piece published
in J.G. Wood, 1874, Natural History of Man Volume I, p. 500 left, which Wood records as an object collected by John Petherick, and at the time of publication, already part of the collection of Colonel Lane Fox (later known as General Pitt Rivers). Pitt Rivers sent this object to Bethnal Green Museum for display, probably in 1874, as part of the first batch of objects sent there. It was later displayed in the South Kensington Museum, before becoming part of the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1884.

Wood discusses this figure in the context of Bongo funerary figures, taking his information directly from Petherick's discussions on this practice (see
J. Petherick, 1861, Egypt the Sudan and Central Africa, p. 401). However it is much smaller than the figures Petherick describes, and seems more likely to be Bari, on stylistic grounds (E. Castelli, 1987, "Bari Statuary. The Influence exerted by European Traders on the Traditional Production of Figured Objects", RES 14, note 10; compare this also with Bari figure 1939.2.1). If this attribution is correct, it was probably acquired when Petherick passed through Bari territory between 1862 and 1863, which would explain why it does not appear amongst material from his earlier expeditions, which was auctioned in England in 1862 (see The Catalogue of the very interesting collection of arms and implements of war, husbandry, and the chase, and articles of costume and domestic use, procured during several expeditions up the White Nile, Bahr-il-Gazal, and among the various tribes of the country, to the cannibal Neam Nam territory on the Equator, by John Petherick, Esq., H.M. Consul, Khartoum, Soudan ). It is not known how Petherick disposed of this later group of material, although a second auction seems probable.

A similar figure in the British Museum, Af.7392, was also published by Wood with an implied Bongo attribution, but is said to have been collected by Petherick in 1863 - a date which is more likely to support a Bari origin.

Although often interpreted as idols or ancestor figures by the Europeans who collected them, it has been suggested that these wooden figures may not have had any origins in local belief systems, but have rather been manufactured specifically for the foreign market, with traders purchasing them from the region around Gondokoro in the period from the mid to late 19th century, and selling them on to European travellers and residents in Khartoum (G.O. Whitehead & T. Thomas, 1938, "Carved Wooden Figures from the White Nile",
Compte-rendu du II Congrès Int. des Sci. Anthrop. et Ethno., 302; E. Castelli 1987, "Bari Statuary. The Influence exerted by European Traders on the Traditional Production of Figured Objects", RES 14, 90 and 95; Evans-Pritchard 1929, Sudan Notes and Records XII, 269-270).

Rachael Sparks 15/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book IV entry - 1884.65.1 - 72 Human form in Savage Art - Long, reddish, poorly-carved, egg-headed figure (male) C Africa.
Blue book entry - Idols and objects connected with religion, Case 78 151, Wooden idol, Central Africa (2418).
Delivery Catalogue II entry - Religious emblems Idol on charm for safety on water, carved wood figure, 2418 13, Cases 225 226.
Written on object - TH[ese] ( or FIGURE?) [BELO]NGIN[G] TO [...] [WHITE?] [...] TER [...]ES [this section largely illegible and letters reconstructed here are tentative; long text of 6 lines, written on upper back in black ink] IDOL CENTRAL AFRICAL. P.R. coll (2418) (151 blue) [black ink, further down back; RTS 28/9/2004].

Display History:
Displayed in Bethnal Green and South Kensington Museums (V&A) [AP].

Publication History:
This appears to be the wooden figure illustrated by Wood (J.G. Wood, 1874, Natural History of Man, p. 500 left).

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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