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Architecture against the State: The Virtues of Impermanence in the Kibulu of Eastern Pende Chiefs in Central Africa

Z. S. Strother
Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians
Vol. 63, No. 3 (Sep., 2004), pp. 272-295
DOI: 10.2307/4127972
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4127972
Page Count: 24
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Architecture against the State: The Virtues of Impermanence in the Kibulu of Eastern Pende Chiefs in Central Africa
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Abstract

This essay addresses the issue of impermanence in sub-Saharan African architecture through a case study from the Eastern Pende of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It takes inspiration from the work of Pierre Clastres to examine the kibulu (the chief's ritual house), built from vegetal materials, as a product of choice and intention rather than as an example of a failed technology. Although interpreted as the "house of the dead," the plan, sculptural program, and landscaping of the kibulu are riven by a dialectical tension between the political and the ritual, between chiefs, who aspire to individualize the building and use it to forward their special status, and community members, who intend to prevent the chief from transforming his priestly function into one of coercive authority. Rules prohibiting maintenance of any kind ensure a regular renegotiation of the social contract between the chief and his people and underscore their interdependence.

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