This mother and child sculpture is the first work from east Africa to enter the FIA collection. It was carved and ornamented by a member of the Kamba tribe, a rural group of people who keep livestock and farm along the banks of rivers in southern Kenya. Figures like this wood carving were probably used in connection with the cult of the ancestors, representing clan founders and important elders.
In addition to depicting a mother and her infant son, the sculptor has included a feline creature sitting on top of the woman's head. While the exact meaning of the animal is not known, it may represent a totem, or an animal believed to have spiritual significance. Totem animals are regarded as group members and given the same respect and protection as humans. They are not killed or eaten and if caught in a trap they are released unharmed. The type of animals vary from group to group, but the human members of the clan share their temperament and characteristics. It is believed the totem animal favors its human kin and will assist them by hunting for them.