There are many different styles of cups coming from the Kuba and related tribes. These vessels were used to drink palm wine a traditional alcoholic beverage served to guests during ceremonies and special occasions. After the cup was presented for all to admire it would be filled with palm wine and shared with everyone. These cups were often carved with expressive representations of the individual who commissioned it to be made. Like a caricature drawing the portrait would be dramatized and characteristics exaggerated so that the face was easily identifiable by others.
These cups are also one of the most important art forms identifies with competition between titled court members among the Kuba, Lele and others. With half of the Bushoong men holding titles in the 1880s competition for influence was sometimes fierce and found expression in the elaboration of these essentially commonplace objects.
There are reports, not confirmed, that these cups played a part in the poisoning of individuals. Among the Kuba and other African tribes, death was never attributed to natural causes but to malevolent spirits or to witchcraft. The person suspected of using witchcraft was required to drink poison from such a cup. If he vomited up the drink he was declared innocent. On the other hand his death proclaimed his guilt and constituted his punishment. ~ The Spirit of Wine in Africa