Luluwa Maternity Figures

"The importance of women is explicitly acknowledged in statues of a personage known as Ancient Mother who is typically depicted holding a small child on her lap. Ancient Mother is considered the head of Luluwa, as exemplified by the saying "Luluwa is a woman." The sacred grove considered to be her ward, or compound. She represents the female aspect of creation and is the founder and guardian of the matrilineage. She is the spiritual mother of all males who pass through Luluwa, and, metaphorically, the mother of the community itself.


Female beauty is an essential element in the ability to attract the ancestral spirits; it serves as an invitation to the ancestral spirits to inhabit the sculpture and thus exercise a positive influence on pregnancy, birth, and the health of the newborn. The figure's long neck and muscular limbs express positive aesthetic values. The concentric lines on the neck are either scarification patterns or necklaces, or possibly both. Luluwa women of status would often wear necklaces of blue and white beads to signify their rank. The large head and high forehead are indicators of beauty that also symbolize intelligence and willpower. The strong calves of the figure suggest a capacity for hard work, a quality much sought after by men when choosing a partner. The coiffure, jewelry, and extensive scarification patterns make apparent that this figure represents not only a beautiful woman, but one of high rank as well. Many cultures associate body decoration with the unified notion of physical and moral beauty, in effect combining Western concepts of "beauty" and "good." At the same time, the nsalu are also a reference to human or cultural beauty, that is, beauty created by humans themselves. Another significant characteristic of these figures is the protruding navel, which depicts the once highly coveted umbilical hernia. The navel symbolizes the close relationship between ancestors and progeny and also alludes to the succession of generations. The detailed depiction of a shell pendant between the shoulder blades of the figure is a direct reference to local customs, as are the sculpted renderings of the loincloth and belt.


Even in the age of secularization, many women will pay considerable sums of money, often from a wedding dowry, in an effort to obtain a maternity figure. The more elaborate and more complex the figure, it is often believed will insure a healthy and productive birth. For many families, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, the Luluwa figures are considered a common object found in the homes of women between the ages of 16 and 35. Small sacrifices of food and drink are often presented to the Luluwa figures.

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