Congolese Sculptor Looks to the Past

Congolese Sculptor Looks to the Past


In the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s war-scarred Great Lakes region, carpenter-turned-sculptor Sauveur Mulwana has left a trail of monumental statues over the past decade as part of his self-styled mission to revive local history and boost peace.

The 42-year-old moved back home to Butembo, a teeming city of more than a million near the borders of Rwanda and Uganda, when his carpentry business was razed by the eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano in the city of Goma.

Butembo is home to the ethnic Nande people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda, so it follows that one of the most eye-catching works by Mulwana — himself a Nande — is an immense portrayal of a Nande king. Set on a bright blue pedestal on a city roundabout, it shows mwami (king) Kighombwe II Lusengo Kirugho, who died in his 80s in 2010 after a lengthy reign, wearing a Western-style suit as he stares into the distance.

The mwamis still wield power, notably allocating land in this predominantly agricultural region that now must accommodate huge numbers of landless refugees after two decades of conflict.

Mwami Kighombwe “helped keep the Nande together” and “is a symbol of tolerance,” Mulwana said. The mwamis’ old beliefs and customs were vital to Butembo’s peaceful future.

When Mulwana and his wife moved to Butembo in 2002, he was struck by the fact that the city “had absolutely no works of art.” He said he felt “vulnerable” when he realized that the new modern way of life had led to an end of traditional African storytelling. He decided he would step in to help the people of Butembo keep their history, culture and heritage.

He spent the next three years reading books and interviewing elders. The result in 2007 was Butembo’s Historical Monument, erected on a square in the heart of the city. It highlights the Nande farming and hunting tradition, their evangelization during the Belgian colonial era, and their modern-day traders.