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, Copper Strips, Wood

This reliquary figure, almost abstracted, has a two-dimensional representation. The foliated head, slightly concave at the front, has a wooden core construction covered with metal strips and sheets. The front is covered with narrow horizontal brass and copper strips, and is bisected by a flat median brass band, decorated with two centrally-incised raised lines. Two applied convex circles form the eyes with brass nails fastened as pupils. A central band splits into two parts, flanking a triangular nose, each consisting of applied brass threads, curving slightly outwards toward the bottom. An incised cut forms a mouth. The bwete head displayed a more complicated decoration on its reverse side. A central triangular axis is composed of widening bands, increasingly expanding towards the bottom, and is flanked by two brass sheets emphasizing a decorative motif of incised tiny horizontal rectangles. The ends of the folded horizontal brass strips covering the front form a diagonal border along the edge. The stem and the top-knot echo each other by being partially coiled with copper wire. The chignon recalls the traditional hairstyle of notable Mahongwe men. The bare base of the stem suffers from erosion.


L. Siroto, The Face of the Bwiti, 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; A. LaGamma, Eternal Ancestors, 2007, p.219

 Mahongwe Reliquary Figure
 Mahongwe Reliquary Figure
 Mahongwe Reliquary Figure