Museum of Chinese Art and Ethnography Xaverian Missionaries - V.le S. Martino, 8 - Parma, Italy 0521-257.337

Exhibit: The Last Heritage of the Lega

The Lega african art of Congo


P. Tam, custode di assemblaggi Lega
Fr. Tam, guardian of the Lega culture

Our planet breathes with many forests, and one of them is the Congo forest. In this nation of central Africa (with its area 8 times Italy) we find the second rainforest of the world, bathed by the Congo river, with its abundance of natural resources and an ecosystem with rich living species.

The Lega (or Warega, Balega) are one of the 400 ethnic groups that populate the Congo; they are called “the Lords of the Forest”. Thanks to the interest and friendship of Fr. Gianandrea Tam, the Museum of Chinese Art and Ethnography presents “The Last Heritage of the Lega”. The collection includes statuette ensembles, masks sets made of ivory, stone, bone and wood, explained by a variety of stories of the Lega people.

After a long friendship, Fr. Tam has worked hard to alleviate the suffering of this people during the many wars in the area, gathering traditional rituals which are dear to the Lega area.


The Cord of Wisdom of the Lega people, DRCongo, il granchio
The Wisdom Cord, 26 proverbi africani Lega
"The Wisdom Cord" - 26 African Proverbs

The Wisdom Cord

Our museum exhibit begins with the Wisdom Cord, with 26 revolving tablets which reproduces the meaningful proverbs of the objects hung on the cord.

Among the Lega people, a rope or cord was strung in the common house, at the center of the village, as a teaching tool for children. On the rope made of fibers hung objects taken from the world that surrounds the village (vegetables, animals, everyday use) as well as miniatures of tools and figures.

Each object has one or more proverbs, retells a story, recalls an anecdote, to remind the youth the moral principles and wise behavior. The cord is like an open book, where children learn, think and reason on the common ideals of the village life.


The tails of the masks and statues

The “bwami” society is a mysterious institution, a hierarchical association with various “degrees” of initiation, which are celebrated with complex rites according to the highest degrees. Since the initiation (called “mpala”) involves the use of many ritual objects, the Lega people require an extensive artistic production. The owners and guardians of these ritual objects (Bami and Kanyamwa) show them during the initiation, accompany them with music and dances, represent them with dramas and proverbs.

The museum exhibits some assembled masks and objects with short didactic explanations of the stories told by the Bami themselves.

One day, 23 bami gathered and conferred on Fr. Tam the title of “mwami” because they witnessed in him an heir of their cultural world. They called him “the one who is attentive to the words of the bami”.

The exhibit “The Last Heritage of the Lega” is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9:00am-2:00pm, for the entire school year.


For schools and classes, tours must be booked and are guided. Our space at the museum allows for groups of about 20 children, with the same opening hours. Contact us at 0521-257.337.