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Chinese Worshipped by Africans 600 Years Ago

More than 300 cultural relics from ancient Congo kingdom arrived in Guangzhou, capital city of south China's Guangdong Province, on December 30, 2003, to participate in an exhibition entitled "The Art of Ancient Congo: From Ritual to Cutting Edge." This is the first time that these relics have left Africa. With a total value of over US$1 million, they provide an opportunity for the Chinese people to better understand the mysteries of the African continent.

Unique Chinese masks

Two Chinese masks are maybe the highlight of this exhibition. Historical data shows that the Chinese landed in Africa in 1422. The Africans showed no aversion to Chinese appearance. On the contrary, they thought the countenance of the Chinese aided them to conquer difficulties and blessed them by arriving in Africa, peacefully. They engraved masks modeling Chinese appearance and painted them in beautiful colors. At prayer ceremonies, males would wear these kinds of masks to represent foreigners, while masks of Chinese women usually stood for motherly love, gentleness and kind-heartedness.

Female body tattooed with characters

In the exhibition, images of men are rarely seen. In a matriarchal society, women set up each tribe. A woman holding a child in her arms would represent the founding of a tribe. The child signified the tribe, while the woman fostered it. Each tribe had its own ideograms. The women tattooed these characters on their bodies and thought the deliberate scar beautiful. Also, as the ancient Congolese attached great importance to procreative ability, most of the ancestor statues had ample bosoms, held in the hands of children.


Over half of cultural relics related to procreation

Visitors will surprisingly find that ancient Africans paid so much attention to birth giving and child raising that over half of the relics on exhibit are to do with procreation. For example, there is a long walking stick, about 1,850 years old. The upper part features a hand holding a pipe, while the lower part are two human figures. One can be easily judged as a man, with one hand holding his huge penis and the other holding above head. The other figure is sitting on his own hand, puffing. At the same time, an abstract female body can be found in the stick, her exaggerating breast indicating her great reproduction ability. The stick was used to pray for male fertility, but the relationship between smoking and procreation still remains a mystery.

Cracked teeth

Almost all women in ancient Congo had their teeth cracked. According to Congolese who came to China with the cultural relics, ancient Congolese not only took huge breasts for beauty, but also scars and cracked teeth. The older ones would have more severely cracked teeth. What was more, boys and girls were not allowed to crack their teeth themselves until they had experienced circumcision and adult ceremonies.

African boys would attend a collective circumcision ceremony at the age of 10-18. They would have their foreskin cut by their mentors in a special venue with special knife. Girls would be taken to live with adult female mentors at the grown-up house and isolated for a period so that they could grow and be strong enough to face the future hardships of maturity. After that, their teeth would be cracked and the grown-up house burnt down.

In this exhibition, visitors have the chance to see the knife used for circumcision.

(China.org.cn by Li Jinhui and Daragh Moller, January 6, 2004)

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