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Fernand Braudel

Ba-Statue of the Viceroy Maloton

2nd to 3rd centuries AD
Karanog, Grave 187

The statue of the Viceroy Maloton was found in tomb 187 of Karanog, the site which was the capital of Lower Nubia in the Meroitic Period, around the 2nd- 3rd century AD. The tomb of this man identified by a tablet, contained other objects, weapons and vessels; one of which was decorated with agricultural scenes.

The sandstone statue represents a man-bird standing on a rectangular base. He stands straight, legs together, arms along the side of the body, bent at right angles at the elbows and folded wings and the tail of a bird sprouting out of the shoulders.

The figure wears sandals and a pair of trousers, a long tunic with sleeves falling down to the ankles and a band at the level of the knees. Armlets adorn his arms and bracelets his wrists. A wide necklace of three rows of round and flat pearls with a small effigy of Amun hanging from it spreads out on his chest. He holds an object in each hand: a cane or a walking stick or a standard restored partially in the left hand and maybe a roll in his broken right hand. Facial features are marked by a certain serenity, the hair is short and he appears to be wearing a cap on the top of his head. Often, it is more common to see this type of statue wearing a sun-disk on top of his head. Traces of polychromy show that it was entirely painted.

This mode of representation has its origin in the representations and beliefs of ancient Egyptians. Indeed, the ba, one of the components of a human being, just like the ka, the akh, the shadow or the name; is represented as a bird with human head and sometimes shown provided with arms. The ba can be defined as the spiritual part of an individual’s soul which after death may wander at will and walk on earth in its winged form, independently of the body. In fact, in Nubia, the statues called ba owe their name to their discoverer.

Ba statues, rare in Egypt, are well attested in Nubia where their artistic quality rarely equal that of the Maloton sculpture. In Egypt it is mostly two-dimensional representations in the form of paintings in tombs or drawings on papyrus that were present. The iconography and symbol of Nubian statues are also different to the Egyptian model as they are dedicated to the worship of the deceased. However, the beautiful statue of Maloton illustrates in a certain manner the borrowings made from Egyptian culture, as the two civilizations were closely linked, allowing the adaptation of a model for other practices and beliefs.

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