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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Culture: Teke (Democratic Republic of Congo)
Title: Male figure (butti)
Medium: Wood
Dimensions: 13 x 3 1/2 inches (33 x 8.9 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of William W. Brill
Object Number: 73.024.004
Label Text: BRIEF DESCRIPTION
This is a carved wooden figure known as a butti. Butti figures are carved to represent important Teke men.

WHERE WAS IT MADE?
The Teke live along the Congo River, where it creates the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo.

HOW WAS IT MADE?
This figure was hand carved by a Teke wood carver using tools such as an adze, knives, and chisels. To produce the smooth, black surface of the figure the sculptor polished the wood with the blade of a very hot knife.

HOW WAS IT USED?
Butti figures are carved to represent an exalted man, such as a community leader or chief. Traditionally, upon the man’s death, the butti joins the deceased at his burial. However, these figures function in other ways and are placed at ritual sites as well.

WHY DOES IT LOOK LIKE THIS?
Notice the figure’s highly stylized facial features, including a triangular beard, a broad flat nose, and small slit eyes. Also notice the scarification, which is culturally specific; the tiny vertical lines (mbandjuala) are typical among the Teke.

Can you see any arms on this figure? Although butti typically have small, sculpted arms, these appendages are not visible on most of these figures. A thick coating of sand and clay covers this figure’s arms and torso. Beneath this encasement there is an open cavity in the figure’s abdomen that holds powerful medicines.

NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.