Bari figure

Bari figure
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan] ?Northern Bahr el Ghazal ?Western Bahr el Ghazal ?Warab ?El Buheyrat ?Western Equatoria
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1850
Wood Plant , Ochre
Carved , Stained , Burnt , Burnished
L = 369 mm, head W = 54.4 mm, th = 53.3 mm; W neck = 36.5 mm, W across pelvis = 30.6 mm, th at knees = 14.8 mm [RTS 8/9/2004].
220.8 g
Other Owners:
Collected by Mansfield Harry Isham Parkyns at sometime between December 1842 and 1850 (possibly as a purchase from the collector/trader Nicola Ulivi in Khartoum); shipped to England by 1850, and presumably subsequently inherited by his daughter, Mrs Buckl
Field Collector:
Mansfield Harry Isham Parkyns
PRM Source:
Mrs Buckland
Donated February 1939
Collected Date:
December 1842 - 1850 (see notes)
Male figure carved from a single piece of wood and consisting of an oval head, slightly pointed at the top with a long sloping forehead that ends in a heavy brow overhanging the eyes; these have been carved as a rectangular recess with circular depressions roughly hollowed out at either end. A broad nose has been shaped below; this is not particularly prominent, and has two deep, tapering depressions cut into its underside to mark the nostrils. The area below this has been carved to form a flat plane, although the sides of the face are more rounded. This has been cut flat across its base, where a deep lentoid shape hole has been burnt using a hot iron - leaving blackened scorch marks around the interior of the depression; presumably this represents the mouth. Two oval ears protrude from either side of the head, with a tapering depression burnt into the centre of each. The figure has a long, thick neck, with a thickened convex lump at its base. This is either a natural feature of the branch from which the figure was carved, or an attempt to suggest an adam's apple. The body below is narrow and straight, with a cylindrical torso with two arms springing from either side, running parallel to it. These taper in below the elbows, then out again slightly to form the hands. The inside face of each arm has been cut flat. The fingers have been formed by making a series of v-shaped cuts into the ends of the hands; there are four digits on the figure's right hand, and five on the left. The figure has a crudely carved penis projecting from the front, while the base of the torso has been cut flat at the back with a circular hole burnt into the centre to indicate the anus. Below, there are two legs, very slightly flexed and carved so as to taper in slightly at the knees, with a convex surface suggesting the calves below. These are positioned with the feet slightly apart and pointing forwards; the heels are delineated from the lower part of the leg, and the soles of the feet are angled with the toes pointing downwards, so that the figure cannot stand unaided. Toes have been marked by v-shaped cuts in the same way as the fingers; these form four digits on the right foot and five on the left.

The surface of the figure has been stained or smeared with red ochre that has tiny flecks of mica mixed in (Pantone 7522C), and while the surface appears to have been roughly carved, there are shiny patches across it that suggest it has been burnished. The wood itself is a mid to dark brown on the surface, but a lighter yellowish brown where this has broken away (Pantone 7508C). There is also a dark, glossy, reddish brown stain around the lower part of the face, possibly resinous. The figure is almost complete, but part of the back of the right ear and part of the surface of the left arm have broken away and are missing. It has a weight of 220.8 grams; is 369 mm long, 54.4 mm wide between the ears, 36.5 mm wide across the neck and 30.6 mm wide across the pelvis, with a thickness ranging from 53.3 mm at the nose, to 14.8 mm at the knees.

Parkyns was in Egypt from December 1842 to 1843, in Abyssinia between 1843 and 1846, and in the Sudan between 1846 and 1848 (based at Khartoum, El Obeid, and living with the Kababish tribe from winter 1846 through all of 1847). He left El Obeid 24th January 1848, returning up the Nile to Cairo, then sailing back to England, which he reached in the summer of 1849. During these periods he collected manuscripts, birds and ethnographic material, with at least some of these probably obtained via Nicola Ulivi, an Italian naturalist and slave dealer who was operating out of Khartoum at this time. Parkyns attempted to send three collections of his material home, the first two while living in Abyssinia; the last of these was gathered in the White Nile and Nubia and consisted of 'about six hundred birds and about a ton weight of ... arms and implements'; this was sent from Egypt back to England and had arrived there by 1850 (G.O. Whitehead, 1940, Sudan Notes and Records XXIII , 131-138; R. Hill, 1967, “Parkyns, Mansfield Harry Isham”, A Biographical Dictionary of the Sudan , 2nd edition, p. 302, D. Cumming, 1987, The Gentleman Savage ). This figure was subsequently inherited by his daughter, Mrs Buckland, and passed onto the Pitt Rivers Museum via G.O. Whitehead.

It seems likely that this figure is the one mentioned in G.O. Whitehead, "Mansfield Parkyns and His Projected History of the Sudan",
Sudan Notes and News XXIII, 1990, p. 136, as a carved wooden figure in the Pitt Rivers Museum, probably of Bari origin (based on comparison with other specimens), which is suggested to be part of his third collection of curiosities, brought back to England from Egypt in 1850. Whitehead suggests that Ulivi obtained the figures from the 'White Nile'. At the time this object was collected, this district was much larger than it is today, extending from roughly the Bahr el Arab all the way to the border with the Belgian Congo; this area is now divided into the districts of Western Bahr el Ghazal, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, and parts of Warab, El Buheyrat and Western Equatoria.

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).

This figure is not mentioned in Castelli's article on Bari statuary mentioned above, but it conforms with the features that he describes as characteristic of this group, namely, use of a hard fibrous wood with its surfaces left rough and often coloured with ochre, a rigid trunk with arms attached, fingers and toes detailed by parallel cuts, legs slightly apart, and the marking of holes for the mouth and nostrils with a hot iron (Castelli 1987, 89). Stylistically, it seems closest to his figure 22, a statue in the Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin, no. IIIA 784, which is 42 cm high.

Rachael Sparks 30/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [p. 200] February MRS BUCKLAND , ... South Brent, S. Devon. - 1939.2.1. BARI , UPPER NILE. Ancestor Figure. Coll. by Mansfield Parkyns (father of donor). Obtained through G.O. Whitehead (School House, Dover College). {Cf. Idol, Central Africa, P.R. coll. 2418, 151 blue, which is a DôR (Dinka name for BONGO *) ancestor figure. See J.G. Wood, Natural Hist. of Man, Africa , London 1874, p. 500.}
Added Accession Book Entry [p. 199] - * Bahr-el-Ghazal region, between Niam-Niam & Dinka tribes.

NB: 1939 is the start of a new numbering system as outlined on page 199 of the accession book (X):

Donations . To be numbered by year, month, serial number in month; e.g., 1939.2.1
Loans . Year, month, serial number preceded by O; e.g. 1939.3.06
Purchases . Year, month, serial number preceded by b; e.g., 1939.5.b9.

[This means that the second number is no longer the collection number - CF 9/3/2000].

Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the catalogue card [RTS 12/2/2004].

Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - 1939.2.1. Ancestor Figure. BARI , UPPER NILE. Coll. Mansfield Parkyns, d.d. MRS BUCKLAND, 1939. Cf Wood, Africa , 1874, p. 500 [tied to object, RTS 8/9/2004].

Publication History:
G.O. Whitehead, "Mansfield Parkyns and His Projected History of the Sudan", Sudan Notes and News XXIII, 1990, p. 136?

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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