Mahongwe 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, Brass Tacks, Copper, Wood

This Mahongwe representation was part of a reliquary ensemble, positioned above and tied with its base to a basket, containing relics (skulls or fragmental bones) of venerated members of the family or ancestors. The ensemble is known as bwete (or bwiiti).This foliated head is a two-dimensional abstracted representation with a wooden core construction. It is wrapped with brass, but differs entirely on each side. It is truncated at the base, with a cylindrical brass coiled bulb at the summit, representing a thick braid worn by notables in a traditional headdress (L. Perrois.). The luminous quality of copper and brass, identified with spirituality, served ideally as expressive media for the ancestor reliquary role – as mediators between the living and the spirits of the other world. Additionally, these expensive materials covering the reliquary representation testified to these heirlooms' precious value, attesting to a family’s wealth, prosperity and prestige.


L. Siroto, The Face of the Bwiiti, African Arts, vol 1 no 3, 1968, p.27; L. Perrois, Notes on the Bwiiti Figures, African Arts, vol 2 no 4, 1969, p.67; A. LaGamma, Eternal Ancestors, 2007, p.219

Mahongwe Reliquary Figure
Mahongwe Reliquary Figure
Mahongwe Reliquary Figure