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Figure of guardian ancestor of Fang reliquary (N° 19312)
The African art of the Byeri cult is illustrated by various anthropomorphic sculptures acting as "guardians" and embodying the ancestor.
The boxes containing the relics of illustrious ancestors were guarded by the oldest man in the village, the "esa". Topped with a statue or a head that acted as guardian of the "byeri" boxes, they were stored in a dark corner of the box, supposed to divert evil influences towards someone else. They were also used during the initiation ceremonies of the young men linked to the "So" society. During festivals, the statues were separated from their boxes and carried in parade. Previews were made on some statues for therapeutic purposes.
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This ancestor figure, wearing a triple shell in the Ntumu style, was intended to be placed in a reliquary basket by the posterior peduncle. Between the stocky, muscular limbs is a long, narrow bust with a prominent umbilicus. The face of a beautiful oval is hardly prognathic. Dark oiled patina partially abraded on a light wood.
The peoples known as the Fang, or "Pahouins", described as conquering warriors, invaded by successive leaps and bounds, from village to village, the entire vast region between the Sanaga in Cameroon and the Ogooué in Gabon, between the 18th and early 20th centuries.
Deep in their huts, in a dark and often smoky corner, the chiefs of lineages preciously stored their Byéri, the relic chests and the sculptures that "watched over" them. The daily life of the Fang had three priorities: to perpetuate their social identity, to subsist in a hostile natural environment, and to dialogue with the deceased to keep them away from the living. (Louis Perrois)
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