Male Reliquary Figure

Exhibits: Ancestor Cult
Tribes: Kota peoples, Mbete group
Location: Gabon / Republic of Congo
Period: Late 20th Century
Materials: Beads, Cowrie Shells, Fiber Strings, Iron, Jute Cloth, Kaolin, Pigments, Unknown Relics, Wood

The Mbete peoples created an ostensibly unique genre of figurative receptacle with an interior cavity at its core. This statue is carved with a hollowed barrel-like torso with a door at its back. It was painted with white kaolin, with powerful legs contrasted with abbreviated arms close to the body. This head is typical of the Mbete style: a flattened visage generally in a lozenge shape, a slightly raised triangular forehead, above a broad brow, and a triangular chin. Cowry shells applied horizontally form the eyes and open mouth exposing sharp iron teeth. The coiffure includes a prominent raised crest with rows of brass tacks, while the sides are inscribed with dense parallel grooves. Traces of three pigments of red, white and black are apparent, applied to the surface, referring symbolically to its ritual context. White is the color of the ancestor world, the land of the dead spirits; red is the symbol of blood (nyama), the life force and black is connected with death, burial and mourning. These reliquary sculptures were connected with ancestor cult, assisting in bringing success to hunting, defense and prosperity in community life. 


A. LaGamma, Eternal Ancestors, 2007, pp.270-1; J.B.Bacquart, The Tribal Arts of Africa, 1998, p.116.

Male Reliquary Figure
Male Reliquary Figure
Male Reliquary Figure
Male Reliquary Figure