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Kota (BaKota, Mahongwe, Sango, Obamba, Shamaye)

Location: Eastern Gabon
Population: 75,000

Arts: The Kota, who are comprised of numerous smaller groups, practice ancestor worship, and it is the foundation of their arts. This is the case throughout much of eastern Gabon, where most of the art forms are connected in one way or another to the veneration or storage of ancestral remains. The works of the Kota are uniquely distinctive, and are comprised mostly of reliquary figures with stylized heads covered in copper sheeting. The body most often is merely a support for the head, and usually consists of a simple triangular design or a plain post. These figures, usually rather small, would be perched atop bark or fiber boxes or baskets, called "Bwete." Over time many of these pieces acquired a lovely green patina from oxidation of the copper. There are a few rare helmet masks, with dramatic crested hairdos and tubular eyes, as well as four-legged stools with reliquary-style heads mounted on one or more of the legs. A few other minor forms exist, like zoomorphic throwing knives, and figural copper bells used in "Bwete" cult ceremonies.

History: The Kota are thought to have migrated to their current homelands from the northeast, possibly as far away as the Sudan. This relocation began in the 18th century. Their first contact with Europeans occurred about 150 years ago, resulting in the conversion of many of the Kota to Christianity. As a result, many items connected with "Bwete" ancestor worship were either destroyed, buried, or thrown down wells. Ironically, many of these pieces were later unearthed or taken out of hiding to be placed on the open market.


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