Reliquary Figure

Exhibits: Ancestor Cult
Tribes: Kota peoples, Mahongwe group
Location: North-eastern Gabon
Period: 20th Century
Materials: Brass Discs, Brass Nails, Brass Strips and Plates, Wood

The Mahongwe reliquary is an extreme departure from naturalistic representation, and is one of the most highly abstracted forms in traditional African sculpture. The Mahongwe were dedicated to their ancestor cult. The members of the clan worshiped and honored their ancestors by preserving their relics in a woven receptacle with this guardian figure tied atop, intended to ward off supernatural interference and unseen enemies. This is a highly abstract two-dimensional representation. In a leaf-like configuration slightly concave, the wooden construction is wrapped with brass. Both sides contrast in their decorative design. The foliated head is truncated at its base, and at its summit is a cylindrical backward, brass coiled bulb. According to L. Perrois, it represents a thick braid called i-benda, worn by notables in an old traditional headdress known as bakani.


L. Siroto, The Face of the Bwiiti, African Arts, vol 1 no 3, 1968, pp 22-27; L. Perrois, Notes on the Bwiti Figures, African Arts, vol 2 no 4, 1969, p 67 .

Reliquary Figure
Reliquary Figure
Reliquary Figure