266. Reliquary Figure

266. Reliquary Figure

H: 35 cm (with tang: 40.4 cm)
Probably from the valleys of Ogooué and Okano (Gabon)
Southern Fang, Nzaman / Betsi tribe ?
Probably 19th century

Ex collection:
Charles Ratton
Morris Pinto

Patina: blackish brown with traces of magical materials with which the figure would have been ceremonially anointed.

A hieratic style of carving in keeping with the sculptural treatment common to these figures, the almost triangular face with the protruding sad mouth surmounted by a huge forehead. The remains of one of its copper sheet eyes is still in place. The head is surmounted by a stylized hairdo falling in tresses at the back and forming a rectangular rounded type of halo engraved with decorative patterns in front.

The Fang, both fearful warriors and cannibals, carved their bieri, which exemplify a serene beauty, for their ancestor cult. This figure would have been fitted by its tang on the cylindrical lid of a bark box in which a revered ancestor's skull and maybe some of his small bones would have been kept, in order to guard them from harm.

These figures represent the Fang's conceptualization of man and his destiny and would have ensured the perpetuation of the spirit power of his ancestors.

Exhibited and Published:
Meisterwerke afrikanischer Plastik, cat. no. 1, pp. 77, 15 ill.

Perrois, L.: La statuaire Fan du Gabon (Paris, 1972), p. 372,fig. 262.
Paulme, D.: L'art sculptural nègre. Vol. I, Art et Style (Paris, 1962), no.1.