Reliquary Bark Box

Nsuk Byeri
Exhibits: Ancestor Cult
Tribes: Fang peoples
Location: Gabon
Period: 20th Century
Materials: Bark of Ekobe (Gabonese Palm Tree), Fiber Threads, Pigment

The sacra around the ancestor cult rituals were the craniums of the lineage ancestors, and the reliquary figures (eyema byeri). The craniums were kept in a bark drum or box. Some containers had a head attached, others a figure sitting on the rim of the bark box. Most figures have a long stick between the legs or buttocks which slots into a hole in the box and holds the statue in place. The box is called nsuk byeri, and it was kept in a special hut or the bedchamber of the family elder. On the average, each reliquary box contained eight to ten skulls, the number normally assembled over several generations. The relic boxes were generally crafted with the bark of a young ekobe, a common palm tree of the Gabonese forest (Olax viridis Oliver). Its rough, grey bark has a strong characteristic smell of garlic. The lid and the bottom were made of light wood held in place by rattan fibers on the circular side, itself made of one rolled and tied piece . This nsuk byeri is made of a cylindrical box, with a light wood lid and bottom.


L. Segy, African Sculpture Speak, 1975,p.220; J. Fernandez, Bwiti: an ethnography of religious imagination in Africa, 1982, p.256; Kaehr L. & Perrois A, Masterwork that Shed Tears… and Light, African Arts, 2007, p.47

 Reliquary Bark Box
 Reliquary Bark Box