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Kota Mahongwe Reliquary Figure Gabon African Art

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Title Kota Mahongwe Reliquary Figure Gabon African Art
Type of Object Carving, Figure, Statue, Sculpture
Country of Origin Gabon
People Kota or Mahongwe
Materials Wood, copper or brass alloy
Approximate Age 20th century
Height (in) 27
Width (in) 13
Depth (in) 4.5
Dimensions Height: 27 Inches
Width: 13 Inches
Depth: 4.5 Inches
Overall Condition Fair
Damage/Repair Oxidation, cracks and chips

Additional Information:

Ancestor worship formed the core of the Kota peoples' religious and social life. At the death of a chief, parts of his body would be decorated with metal and rubbed with magical powders. These would be kept in baskets surmounted by stylized figures which the Europeans called "naja" because they resembled the head of an erect cobra. The figures were covered with copper or brass. At the time of the initiation into the secret society, each clan's chief would dance, holding the reliquary. The reliquaries were kept outside homes, and only the initiates of the lineage had access to this sacred place. The MaHongwe are linked to the Kota but have developed their own style often identified as 'naja', a European term of identification. The brass sheet and narrow strips covered wooden sculpture were known to the MaHongwe as 'osseyba' and placed on baskets containing the relics of ancestors and to venerate the deceased and recognized members of the lineage. They were used in an ancestor cult known as 'bwete' where the baskets were placed in temples in a village and would generally consist of two figures, one larger than the other. The larger represented the founder of the lineage and the smaller a descendent of the lineage. Sometimes they were 'janus' faced (that is having faces on both sides of the figure) and would represent the two ancestors on one figure. The formal sculptural presentation of the figures were often enhanced by brass sheets worked in a repousse technique (sheet metal worked by pressure from the rear to form a design) and by brass metal strips worked in design across the face of the sculpture. (See Kerchache et al's ART OF AFRICA)

Numbering about 30,000, the Kota share language and culture with a constellation of smaller ethnic groups living in Gabon and along the western reaches of the People's Republic of the Congo. All are identified through a common sharing of sculptural forms and ceremonies in service to a cult practice known as Bwete. The focal point of Bwete rituals are reliquary containers made of bark or basketry holding magical objects or the bones of ancestors. Among the Kota, Bwete reliquaries would be grouped together under a small shelter in the village metaphorically gathering the different lineages and clans in symbolic union. Highly abstracted guardian figures are attached to the top of the Bwete reliquaries depicting founders of the clan and important individuals. These figures also served to protect the relics from malicious actions of witches and malefactors and themselves were handled with care and reverence