Region: Gabon Accession: M84-066 Period: 19th-20th century Materials: Wood, brass, copper, iron Dimensions:
The Kota peoples venerate their most remarkable ancestors. Their bones and relics are assembled in a basket or bundle, surmounted by a protective figure called mbulu-ngulu, and placed in a shadowy hut or shrine. These were intended to be viewed only by the priests and the young men initiated into adulthood, who considered the relics in the bark or fibre bundle the more important component. As the tradition weakened under colonial influence, many Kota reliquary figures entered western collections.
Kota figures take the shape of an abstracted human face and are formed from a wooden core that is plaited with sheets of copper and brass. Intended to be seen from the front, the sculptures usually have eyes, required for their protective function, but no mouth. Within this well-defined form there is an astonishing compositional variety, often differing by region. By incorporating metals, the sculptor creates a shield to deflect malicious forces while highlighting the wealth and prestige of the ancestor and his or her community, as these materials were traditional forms of currency throughout Central Africa.