Reliquary Figure

Butti Mutinu Bmamba
Exhibits: Ancestor Cult
Tribes: Teke peoples
Location: Republic of Congo
Period: Mid 20th Century
Materials: Cloth, Organic Matter, Red Pigment, Unknown Relics, Wood

In Teke society the father of a family would invoke the ikwi, or 'shades of the dead' to ward off calamities perpetrated by witches. To invoke the help of ancestor, the Teke carved wooden reliquary figures,with magical substances, bonga (also bilongo) attached to a cavity in their body, which was the effective source of their magical power. They were then called butti (F. Willett). Almost all these statuettes are treated by the Naga or fetish doctor, who carved many of them himself. Each of which has a special sphere of action influencing hunting, pregnancy, marriage, alliance, trade, or health. The shape of the magical substance – bonga - attached to the statuette body often indicates its function. The Matomba figures, such as this one, carry a barrel-shaped bonga, which has apotropatic functions, to cast away harmful forces such as diseases or curses (J. Baptise-Bacquart). This butti fetish is so richly endowed with the magical substance, bonga, that his body is almost entirely concealed under the cloth wrappings. The red color of the fabric is a reference to the life force, and is regarded as having greater magical power. The coiffure is composed with three lobes. 


A. LaGamma, Eternal Ancestors, 2007, p. 304,308
F. Willett, African Art, 1988, p.160; J. Baptise-Bacquart, The Tribal Art of Africa, 1998, p.132.

 Reliquary Figure
 Reliquary Figure
 Reliquary Figure
 Reliquary Figure