Marjorie and Jeffrey A. Rosen
Donation of a fertility stick
This stick was offered to the musée du quai Branly in 2004 by a generous American couple as a tribute to Martine Aublet, then Director and president’s patronage advisor and Bruno Roger.
Director of the musée du quai Branly’s museology project, Germain Viatte veered the choice of the donation to favor this exceptional piece unbeknownst to Martine and Bruno Roger. The discretion of the donation accentuates its generosity.
This elegant 119 cm stick from the Zaramo tribe (Tanzania) likely dates back to 1925. The statuette was probably made in the Maneromango School, founded by the German Lutheran mission at the end of the 19th century.
It could have served several purposes. The most figurative sticks and pieces were used during ceremonies that could assert the authority of a chief or seer. In this case, they were called “healing trees”. The stick could also be buried in the ground, rendering the land sacred.
Description of the fertility stick by Manuel Valentin
in Musée du quai Branly - La Collection (Skira Flammarion, 2009).
« Formally, it combines two distinct elements: a stick with a spherical pommel and a rounded sculpture that occupies more than one third of the piece's total length. It would have been held under the figure, which suggests that it served a ceremonial or display function, rather than a support function. […]
The volumes of the female figure are marked by the continuous geometrization of the long trunk and neck, a simple cylinder upon which sits an oval head. The shoulders, elbows, knees and wrists are more or less bent giving the statuette its angular aspect. The face is shaped from a gently rounded material and is characterized by a smooth and rounded forehead. The eyes are made from two white incrusted pearls, the nose is straight and narrow while the very small mouth is highlighted by its prominent position. The hair is styled by fine parallel engraving suggesting flattened braids, pulled and gathered at the back and falling bluntly at the nape of the neck. Undoubtedly, a rather cold and mechanical impression would have dominated the stick had the sculptor not included a slight asymmetrical chest. The left breast is slightly higher than the right, so as to repeat the unevenness of the hands resting on the stomach. This detail, along with the forward mouth movement, somehow dilutes the general stiffness of the statuette and gives it some expressivity. […]
The hair, protruding navel and small chest point to an initiated pubescent young girl. The hands on the stomach, a hopeful gesture or the sign of an expecting mother, complete this representation. After her initiation, the girl is brought to be married and to fulfill her reproductive duty. The Zaramos and neighboring peoples favor feminine descendence and share the same ritual approach and symbolism of femininity. »