Lot: 292

101st Auction

Reliquary guardian figure "mbulu-ngulu" or "boho-na-bwete"

Gabon, Kota

Provenance Size Starting price / estimated price
American Private Collection H: 31.1 inch 9000 EUR
plus 27 % commission, VAT, transport and insurance

wood, shiny metal, handwritten inventory number on reverse "24087", base

Kota reliquary guardian figures, such as this one, are unique among African sculptural forms in their combination of wood and hammered metal.

As with the Fang, ancestor worship ("bwete" cult) plays an important role among the Kota. It finds expression in these anthropomorphic metal-decorated figures called "boho-na-bwete" in the north and "mbulu-ngulu" in the south.

The Kota believed that relics of important men and women possessed great power and could grant protection to descendants and bring good luck. Therefore, skulls and bones were kept together with magical substances in woven baskets ("musuku mwangudu" or "usuwu ngulu").

Occasionally, the relics were publicly displayed with the aim of mobilizing the power of the ancestors, such as when an important event took place in the community (a hunt, a great collective fishing expedition, etc.).

Sometimes the figures were removed from shrines and used during annual "bwete" festivals. When not in use, the figures and baskets with ancestor relics are usually kept in a small chamber at the back of the chief’s residence.