Female Reliquary Figure

Type: figure
Exhibits: Ancestor Cult
Tribes: Lumbo / Punu peoples
Location: Gabon
Period: 20th Century
Materials: Fiber Ropes, Pigment, White Kaolin, Wood

Punu masks with white faces are said to represent the “spirit of a young girl” who has returned from the land of the dead to participate in village life. But whitened faced figures referred not only to the dead, but also to anti-witchcraft techniques. Witches were believed to be most active and powerful at night, and whiteness referred to light and clarity which stand in opposition to night and mystery. In Gabon, as in other parts of the African continent, the clairvoyants ring their eyes with white kaolin as a strategy for detecting witchcraft (Africa, The Art of a Continent, Prestel, 1999, p. 313). Stylistically, this truncated figure may refer to the idealized female portraits created by Punu and Lumbo sculptors.  this young female figure seems to be invested with many signs of combating anti-witchcraft: the white rings around her eyes, magical red strings around her neck and base, magical matter probably were inserted into the stomach cavity, the magical scarring on her torso, and her posture, supposedly holding some protective weapons. This reliquary figure might aid her owner with some magical protection to ward off evil spirits (witchcraft), curses and sickness and to appease ancestral spirits for their benevolent protection.


Africa, The Art of a Continent, Prestel, 1999, p. 313

Female Reliquary Figure
Female Reliquary Figure
Female Reliquary Figure
Female Reliquary Figure