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Tribal art - African Reliquary:

In Africa, reliquaries are the guardians of buried ancestors. They can keep bones, or the skulls of dignitaries, chiefs, warriors, dead and kept in sacred concessions. The reliquaries are also receptacles often cylindrical wicker baskets intended for the preservation of relics, this being a widespread practice in Central Africa among Kota, Fang, Tsogho. Some reliquaries like the Ambete are statues with a receptacle placed in the back.


Reliquary keeper of the Byeri Fang
Tribal art > African Statues > Fang statue

Eket sculptural art spread via the lagoon to neighboring countries. Its influence can be seen on the face of this statue sculpted by the Fang of Cameroon, which was intended to be placed in a reliquary basket by the rear stalk. Very thick oily patina, locally lumpy. Missing at the level of a foot, cracks of desiccation.
The boxes containing the relics of illustrious ancestors were guarded by the oldest man in the village, the "esa". Surmounted by a statue or a head that acted as a guardian of the "byeri" boxes, they were stored in a dark corner of the hut, supposed to divert evil influences to someone else. They were also used during the initiation ceremonies of young people linked to the "So" society. During the festivals, the statues were separated from their boxes and carried in ...


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Figure of reliquary Fang of Byeri
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Tribal art > African Statues > Statue Fang

Ex-french African art collection.
Anthropic figure guardian of the reliquary containing the bones of the deceased, on which it was recorded by the posterior stalk. This concave-faced statue has a stretched bust in which the umbilical stands out and atrophied limbs. Its long neck is surrounded by a metal torque, with apotropaic virtues. The umbilical lozenge and the geometric representation of sex are associated with parentage. The hollowed-out orbits give a psychic look to the figure. The black brown patina, smooth and oiled, blends locally.
A disturbing reputation for cannibals accompanied the Fang people, carefully studied by ethnologist Louis Perrois. Rituals and ceremonies related to the worship of Theby also included taking a hallucinogenic drug, alan , in order to ...

Figure of reliquary Kota Mbulu ngula
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Tribal art > African Reliquary > Kota Reliquary

Stylistic variation of a striking abstraction of Kota art: metal plates are stapled on a wooden core with a face on top. Image inspired by visions, the head is crossed by a ridge forming the nose, punctuated by upholstery nails, whose copper color contrasts with the golden metal.
Baskets containing the relics of illustrious ancestors, usually surmounted by two reliquaries, were kept in temples in the village. One embodied the founder of the lineage, and the second embodied his descendants. The cult of ancestors, the bwete (North Kota) was at the heart of the social and religious life of the Kota and presents many analogies with that of the Fang . In the exclusive presence of initiates, the major decisions of the clan were made during ceremonies in which reliquaries were taken ...

Fang Ntumu s ancestor figure of the Byeri
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Tribal art > African Statues > Statue Fang

Covered with braids gathered in three top shells, the horizontal lips forming a wide pout, this reliquary figure displays the characteristics of the Ntumu style from the regions between Gabon, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. Matt oily patina, eroded areas. Lacks in the feet.
Among the Fang of Cameroon and Gabon, each family has a "Byeri", or reliquary box, in which the bones of the ancestors are kept. These boxes were kept by the oldest man in the village, the "esa". The reliquary boxes were surmounted by a statue or a head that acted as a guardian of the "byeri" boxes. These were kept in a dark corner of the box, and were meant to divert evil influences to someone else. They were also used during the initiation ceremonies of young people linked to the "So" society. During ...

Figure of reliquary Kota Mbulu Ngulu
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Tribal art > African Reliquary > Kota Reliquary

Rare stylistic variant of Kota art: metal plates are stapled on a wooden core with a face on top. Image inspired by visions, the geometrical head is crossed by a ridge forming the nose, punctuated by upholstery nails, whose copper color contrasts with the gilded metal.
Baskets containing the relics of illustrious ancestors, usually surmounted by two reliquaries, were kept in temples in the village. One embodied the founder of the lineage, and the second embodied his descendants. The cult of ancestors, the bwete (North Kota) was at the heart of the social and religious life of the Kota and presents many analogies with that of the Fang . In the exclusive presence of initiates, the major decisions of the clan were made during ceremonies in which reliquaries were taken out and ...

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Figure of reliquary Kota Mahongwe
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Tribal art > African Reliquary > Kota Reliquary

Incarnating a founder of lineage, this work of great sobriety on its front face is characterized by a concave ogive face surmounted by a small tubular excrescence. The eyes are represented by cabochons pierced with a pupil on either side of a hooked nose. Copper threads line the surface, the whole evoking for some the naja snake. On the posterior part is concentrated an abundant ornamentation of imbricated motifs. This sculpture is characteristic of the Mahongwe from the extreme northeast of Gabon, on the border with Congo. Baskets containing the relics of illustrious ancestors, usually surmounted by two reliquaries, were kept in village temples. One embodied the founder of the lineage, and the other his descendants. The cult of ancestors, the Bwete (North Kota), was at the heart ...

Anthropomorphic reliquary Bonganga Ntombe
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Tribal art > African Reliquary > Ngata Reliquary

Named Bonganga or Efomba according to the authors, these anthropomorphic coffins were intended to receive the remains of dignitaries of the Ngata ethnic group. As in Ancient Egypt, this type of sarcophagus was ordered during their lifetime by high-ranking persons. These sculptures " bonganga-nganga " are characterized by a polychromy and a beautiful alternation of geometrical patterns underlined by a decorative nailing. This ornamentation resumes the traditional scarification, tattoos, paintings and textiles that the deceased appears. The trunk, established on short massive legs, serves as a receptacle that closes a flap on the back. The bent arms are positioned glued to the bust. A head surmounts the whole. Housed in the rear reliquary, instead of the bones of the deceased, a wooden ...

Figure of reliquary Kota Mahongwe
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Tribal art > African Reliquary > Kota figure

The concave face surmounted by a tubular excrescence offers here two cabochon eyes with a pupil framing a hooked nose. Threads and metal plates, skillfully arranged, alternate on the surface whose magical power was reactivated by the use of sand.
This sculpture is characteristic of the MaHongwe from the extreme northeast of Gabon, on the border with Congo. Baskets containing the relics of illustrious ancestors, usually surmounted by two reliquaries, were kept in village temples. One embodied the founder of the lineage, and the other his descendants. Ancestor worship, the bwete (North Kota) was at the heart of the social and religious life of the Kota and has many analogies with that of the Fang. In the exclusive presence of insiders, the major decisions of the clan were ...

Figure of reliquary Kota Obamba
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Tribal art > African Reliquary > Statue Kota

Obamba sculptural expression in African art

Effigie of ancestor Kota known mbulu-ngulu, its morphology is similar to the Obamba type. A concave face, from which the eyes pierce in cabochons, is haloed with a headdress with side fins. The set is plated with sheets and metal threads engraved with repulsed. The base that would appear the arms is only partially covered with metal.
This type of figure overcame the baskets in which the mortuary relics of the upper lineage ancestors were stored, playing the role of guardians named ngulu. In the exclusive presence of insiders, the clan's major decisions were made during ceremonies during which the reliquaries were taken out and used by the banganga . In order to reactivate the magical charge, the initiates rubbed the relic with ...

Kota reliquary statue of Bwété Mbulu viti
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Tribal art > African Reliquary > Kota Reliquary

This ritual sculpture, plated with brass-brass leaves according to the kota tradition, forms a stylized image of the ancestor, a coat of arms also for the clan, and is generally distinguished by the shape of the headdress, which varies according to the regions. The headdress here is a tubular growth, the face sculpted on the posterior face recalls the fang sculptures, and the main face, concave, adopts a hooked nose and bone eyes.
The Kota inhabit the eastern part of Gabon, which is rich in iron ore, and some in the Republic of Congo. The blacksmith, in addition to wood carving, made tools for agricultural work as well as ritual weapons. Sculptures playing the role of 'medium' between the living and the dead who watched over the descendants, were associated with the rites of the ...

Figure of Kota reliquary of the Bwété
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Tribal art > African Reliquary > Figure Kota

This ancestor figure, with an angled face, and a base offering a spectacular 'unhinged', certainly stands out from the classic pattern of kota reliquaries. The look of bone lozenges pierced with metal pupils, and the toothed mouth, the alternation of gilded, coppery metal, and the juxtaposition of geometric patterns, also give an expressive and lively character to an unexpected work.
The cult of ancestors, the bwete (North Kota) was at the heart of the social and religious life of the Kota and has many analogies with that of the Fang . In the exclusive presence of insiders, the clan's major decisions were made during ceremonies during which the reliquaries were taken out and used. In order to reactivate the magical charge, the initiates rubbed the relic with sand. Among the Kota, ...

Byeri Fang Reliquary Keeper
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Tribal art > African Statues > Statue Fang

Br-Guardians of reliquary in the African art of Gabon
This male figure embodies the spirit of the ancestors. A tribal sculpture of great aesthetic quality, it was preserved by the esa, the oldest man in the family, and was stored in the reliquary basket in which the bones of the ancestors were kept. The rhythm of the angles, headdress, breasts, musculature, joins, contrasts with the tubular volumes. Very present, the tubular element at the umbilical symbolizes the filial bond. By the care given to the physiognomy, an intense concentration seems to emanate, reinforced by the attitude of the hands gathered on the bust. Smooth black patina, erosions located on one foot and the sides of the headdress.
This type of object was placed in a dark corner of the box. The relics of the ...

Figure of reliquary Mahongwe biface
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Tribal art > African Reliquary > Mahongwe Reliquary

This rare two-face sculpture is characteristic of the Mahongwe of the extreme northeast of Gabon, on the border of Congo, and associated according to some with the naja snake. The baskets containing the relics of illustrious ancestors, usually surmounted by two reliquaries, were kept in temples in the village. One was the founder of the lineage, and the second his descendants.
The concave warhead face topped with a small tubular growth is adorned with cabochons eyes, equipped with a pupil. A rounded nose accentuates the singular appearance of the mouthless face. Metal wires and repulsed strips provide a carefully alternate décor. The foot is eroded. Beautiful grey patina, green-of-grey reflections.
Collection Mercier.
The cult of ancestors, the bwete (North Kota) was at ...

Figure of Kota reliquary
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Tribal art > African Reliquary > Figure Kota

This sculpture depicts a concave face, capped with large extended side panels of two pendeloques. It is plated with copper and brass leaves that a discreet nailing makes adhere to the wooden soul. The set is animated by geometric patterns. The eyes surrounded by a resinous amalgam are made up of bone or horn washers. The Kota inhabit the eastern part of Gabon, which is rich in iron ore, and some in the Republic of Congo. The blacksmith, in addition to wood carving, made tools for agricultural work as well as ritual weapons. The sculptures, playing the role of "medium" between the living and the dead, who watched over the descendants, were associated with the rites of the bwete , comparable to those of the Fang . They are sometimes bifaces, mbulu-viti, symbolizing both the masculine and ...


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Figure of reliquary Kota Sango
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Tribal art > African Statues > Statue Sango

Reliquary sculpture devoid of crescent crest usually accompanying this type of pieces. Two broad ears frame a flat face where the bulging forehead is surmounted by an outgrowth. The piece alternates with gold veneers and highlights of orange copper wire, while the neck is wrapped in a large sheet of black metal. Restorations using long staples were carried out on the damaged foot.
Among the shira-punu group, Les Massango , Mashango , Sango, Sangu, settled on the Chaillu massif in Gabon and in the province of Ngounié. The use of the bone baskets of the deceased, on which sculptures of this type reigned, was widespread throughout Gabon, ches the Fang, the Kota, but also the Mitsogho and Massango , in which this cult takes the name of Bumba. The sculptures playing the role of "medium" ...

Relic statue Bulu, Boulou
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Tribal art > African Statues > Reliquaire Bulu


Deep whitened orbits and wide rictus give an unusual character to this statue embodying the spirit of a great ape. It also serves as a reliquary thanks to its hollowed-out bust on the back, shuttered by a shutter. Tapestry nails highlight certain features. Dark skate abraded locally. Erosions.
Established in the equatorial forest between Cameroon and Gabon, the Bulu are part of the Fang ensemble that use sculptures as part of the cult of ancestors. As the Fang of South Cameroon famous for their large white masks, the Boulou, Bulu, also practiced the ritual Ngi , Ngil in order to fight witchcraft and poisoning. Ngi is the anthropoid monkey, a fearsome animal to which the applicant identifies after his acceptance into the secret society. (African Art, Mazenod).


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