Gabon is situated on the Equator on the West Coast of Africa. The population count is about 2 Million and the official language is French. Most of the country is covered in dense tropical forest. There are +- 40 different tribal groups who are all part of the Bantu linguistic history except for a few thousand of original pygmies still living in the forests. From a traditional art perspective, the most important people are the Fang who make up a large part of the population and also reside in neighbouring Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. Other important producers of unique traditional art are the Punu, The Kota, the Mbete, the Misogho and the Teke.

The Fang

The Fang migrated from further north in the 18th and 19th centuries and today occupy the northern parts of Gabon, southern parts of Cameroon and almost all of the tiny state of Equatorial Guinea. Traditionally the Fang lived in enlarged family units or very small villages in clearings of the rain forest. They are principally hunters, but they also do some farming. Social and religious life is based on the family, an ancestor, or the enlarged clan with a common ancestor. Each family kept a BYERI, which is a reliquary basket or box, in which bones of famous ancestors were kept. This box was surmounted by a carved figure which acted as the guardian of the contents. These statues are nowadays been perceived by many experts as representing the pinnacle of African Art. They were also revered by the Fang people and displayed for all important functions , but to them the contents of the BYERI was the real treasure. Statues were also displayed at various functions in the village centre, attached to tree stems and guiding and assisting with whatever problems or issues were being debated. There are numerous styles of Fang Guardian Figures, as they were all created for individual families or clans, but there are two acknowledged styles, namely of the Northern Fang and the Southern Fang. The Southern Fang figures are more robust, while the Northern style figures are generally more elegant and are often enhanced with copper plates. However the Fang are spread over such a vast area that many substyles developed and as almost all statues were made for a particular family unit or a small clan, each and everyone is unique and different. Just as important as the statues were some of the masks, especially the famous Ngil masks.

g1. GUARDIAN STATUE

Ntumu style, Northern Fang
Wood, Height 58cm

A very tall elongated figure. No decoration, but showing off some very prominent and delicate wood grain. This statue apparently was originally displayed in a local museum which was destroyed through rioting in election contests. It hails from a village called Nyanga in the Ngounie Province, an area which is mainly populated by the Punu, but also accommodates a minority of Fang people.

g2. FANG BYERI STATUE

. Ntumu Style, Gabon, Cameroon
Height 42cm without stalk

Dark brown patina, protruding navel. There are enhanced patches on forehead, shoulder and arms which were adorned with metal decorations in the past, but were removed over the years, most probably for their monetary value. There are ivory inlays for the eyes as well as on both sides of the neck which is rather unusual. Good condition, a really masterful old piece.

g3. FANG BYERI GUARDIAN STATUE

Ntumu Style, Gabon
Height 55cm without stalk

Shiny black patina with prominent features highlighted in lighter tones of brown. Superb understated design, two subtle brass armbands are the only decoration. Good condition, a real masterpiece. I have known of  a few similar statues in books or at famous auction houses, but have never before seen one in real life. This is definitely a special sculpture. There is a crack at the base and a tiny piece of one foot is broken off, both legs at one stage were reattached, but the main torso, the head, and everything else is in excellent condition.

g4. Fang Guardian Statue

Ntumu Style, Gabon, Cameroon
Height 60cm

Natural patina, extremely heavy wood, hands pointing towards navel. No decoration, outstanding fine detailed carving. Excellent condition. The intricate woodgrain creates a unique exclusivity. This statue came from a place called Nyanga in the southern Province of Ngounie, which is mainly populated by the Punu people. Fang from northern Gabon would have married Punu women (because they are so beautiful) and settled in the area. As most Fang reliquaries belong to individual families and not to a tribe, they made their way with the individuals who settled in the new area. 

g5. BYERI GUARDIAN STATUE

Ntumu Style, Gabon
Height 51cm

Natural patina, no decoration. Left front foot, lip and nose slightly chipped, part of the back of the statue quite severely damaged from water seeping in the shrine where it was kept. A very powerful piece, I have personally seen local Fang people holding it in their hands and praying to their forefathers, and that was only a few years ago. Statues with natural patina were traditionally placed onto the village tree during important meetings and ceremonies. Each village has a large tree located next to the main communal area.

g6. byeri GUARDIAN STATUE

Ngumba style, Gabon
Height 43 cm without stalk

Natural patina, no other decoration, holding a cup. Excellent condition and detail despite its aged weathered look. This statue hails from the village Ekoba near Makokou in the Ogoue-Ivindo Province, which is a sparsely populated area, Pygmies living in surrounding forests. Generally Fang live in family units, but in this particular area they have tribal chiefs who would have looked after the statues for the community.  The long stalk indicates that it was inserted into a reliquary basket, but during ceremonies the statues where sometimes displayed like puppet figures above a cloth stretched between two trees and the stalks are ideal for that purpose.

g7. FANG BYERI GUARDIAN STATUE

Ngumba style, cameroon
Height 50cm without stalk

Holding a horn, displaying a square beard and metal eye inserts. Natural dark patina, with a purposefully quite rough and robust finish with distinctive details. The wood is very heavy. This statue is quite different to most, from the unusual almost neutral colour to the very simple hairstyle which looks rather insignificant compared to the elaborate coiffure of most Fang reliquary carvings. Typical for the Ngumba style are the round eyes nd the open mouth with the lips thrust forward. The statue is in excellent condition.

g8. FANG BYERI GUARDIAN STATUE

Ntumu Style, Equatorial Guinea
Height 58cm

Smooth natural patina. Brass bracelets on forearms. Very good condition, despite some prominent signs of ageing. The detailed engraved design pattern at the back is unusual as is the shape of the nose, ending up perfectly with the eyebrows. This unusual style could well be interpreted as a study by an extremely competent traditional sculptor who had an insight, training and experience of modern art and was creating a new interpretation of  traditional sculpture. Very unique and of artistic significance. 

g9. BYERI GUARDIAN STATUE

Ntumu Style, Northern Fang, Gabon
Height 50cm

Black patina. Copper eye inserts and very understated metal and bead decoration with a cowrie shell embedded in the wood. Good condition, a genuine old piece, this was the first Fang Byeri statue I possessed. At that early stage I actually knew very little about traditional Fang BYERI statues, but it’s unusual style made me study and slowly understand and eventually adore Fang art, to the extent that the Fang carvings are now a pride of place in my collection,

g10. FANG BYERI GUARDIAN STATUE

Janus lookalike figures, Gabon
Height 68cm

Dark patina, richly decorated with copper plates. Weathered condition, but still very solid. Janus figures with identical features on front and back are not unusual in African art. The figures are enhanced with copper plates, which is a regular feature of Northern Fang styles. The craftsmanship is quite outstanding. As can be seen on the images, the sideview clearly shows two separate figures, while the view from front only shows one.

g11. FANG GUARDIAN STATUE

Ngumba style,Cameroon
Height 105cm

Natural patina. Square beard, feather headdress, copperplate ornaments, holding a horn. This is a rather large figure and would not have belonged to a single family as is the case with most Fang ancestor memorabilia. It probably was created for a specific occasion and kept as part of the clan or village artefacts. Excellent condition, a superb and powerful statue created by a gifted craftsman. The Ngumba are located in the far south of Cameroon, but originally they lived in the south eastern corner of the country, close to the central Congo forests. They were in close proximity with the Kota, who are well known for their copper usage, which is probably why the Ngumba use more adornments than the other Fang tribes.

g12. NORTHERN FANG GUARDIAN STATUE

Ntumu Style, Equatorial Guinea or Gabon
Height 52 cm

Natural patina, almost white wood. Exquisite carving, minimalistic style. Two simple copper bands around forearms, holding cup. There is a big crack in the wood from the neck right down the middle of the body to just above the genitals, otherwise in excellent condition with superb detail. Some kind of resin has been used to depict the eyes which is quite unusual. The wood has turned relatively light from age. Every detail is expertly executed and one just wants to hold and caress the sculpture, which is exactly what probably was done for many years. The statue originates from the village of Mayumba close to the Congo border. A genuinely rare and unusual old sculpture.

g13. FANG BYERI FEMALE GUARDIAN STATUE

Benga village, North Gabon
Height 44cm

Natural dark brown patina. This statue was for generations kept in the round house of the village elder in the village of Benga in northern Gabon. The round house in Fang tradition symbolises a place that connects man to God. Most Fang statues represent male figures, so this female representation must be of a very prominent and powerful female ancestor. Very good condition despite its age. The front part of the right foot is chipped off. Extremely detailed is the attention to the mouth, displaying the tongue and delicately carved teeth.

g14. NGIL MASK

fang, gabon Height 57cm

Natural off-white patina, Minimalistic style, extremely powerful. Through the ageing process the wood has become relatively light and soft, but the mask is still in perfect condition. The Ngil society wielded political and juristic powers and its members would arrive at night with a troop of followers amidst light flares to enhance the dramatic effect. This mask was originally in possession of Benjamin Ze Ondo Bouanga and was given to me by his granddaughter in appreciation of our relationship. Of course by now the grand daughter has become grandmother as well, even a great grand mother already. A rare mask to be treasured.

g15. FANG FEMALE STATUE

Mvaai style
height 60cm

Dark brown shiny patina. An expertly and beautifully carved statue with the most exquisite facial details. Statues like these, often displaying exaggerated female organs, were used as aid in preparing young virgins to adulthood. The statue was also consulted during problems in pregnancy. 

g16. FANG CEREMONIAL AXE

Height 45 cm
Wood, Copper, Iron

The traditional Fang sitting figure creates the perfect visual balance as well as the ideal weight distribution. When I took ownership, I was told by a reliable and trustworthy source that the piece was created in 1938, but I don’t have any historical documents, so i  can’t vouch for that. 

g17. FANG GUARDIAN STATUE

Ntumu style, Gabon
Height 54cm, wood, copper

A very remarkable piece, perfectly executed, all elements in total harmony. We can trace it as far back to when it was in possession of Johann Obiang Rantal oto Zue, who became a member of the L’eglise de d’Alexandre , also known as Egyptian church in 1941. His brother Samson Mbingui oto Zue was the resident minister. The family back then resided in the village of Ebel, a part of the small town of Booue in Central Gabon. The statue had been passed on to Johann from his forefathers. Johann was the Great Great Grandfather of the mother of a very good contact of mine from Gabon. The mothers name is Madanie Mezui Bivigou who can recall all her family members back to her Great Great Grandmother by name of Marie Nurlie. Although the family had converted to Christianity many years ago, the statue was kept as a precious and treasured piece along with many other remnants of the past, in fact the statue was cared for and oiled regularly.

g18. FANG NGIL MASK

Height 70cm
wood, white pigment, raffia

Very beautiful and totally symmetric features. There are regular holes right down the very long and prominent nose. These holes were provided for further adornment of the mask when in use. It looks like the face was overpainted with white paint over the original surface, but this is not unusual as masks like this one were adored and lasted for many years and were regularly repaired and renewed after usage. The colour white is associated with the world of the ancestors. The dividing features around the forehead are beautifully crafted and the nose is a marvel of precision. A tiny piece of a small top inner part of the head is broken off. The raffia section has become feather light and very thin from aging.  Ngil masks were worn for judiciary functions, mainly to pick out the evildoers in society. There are many different kinds of Ngil mask. but the elongated shape and the small and rather thin eye features are common to all of them.

Dark wood, metal eye inserts, engraved necklace adornment.

A very rare female statue with the right hand pointing towards the stomach and the left hand holding the ample left breast. One can assume that the figure was carved in the memory of a woman that gave birth to many important or successful children. It was discovered and brought to me direct from Gabon by my friend Adamou, who had specially earmarked it for my collection.

g20. BYERI BOX

Fang, Gabon
Tree bark, Height 50cm

A superbly grafted tree bark container. It used to contain relics like teeth,  bones, finger nails, and other items like personal belongings of the deceased. The box was usually looked after by the eldest male in the family unit. The regular reliquary cult with initiation parades was disbanded in the 1930’s, but many familes kept the statues and to a lesser extend the boxes. This particular box was used to house a very old Byeri statue together with a raffia skirt, similar to skirts worn by women during dances.

g21. ngil mask

fang, Gabon
wood, raffia, HEIGHT 55CM

A superb old Ngil mask. These masks were a symbol of fear and retribution and were used to single out wrongdoers. The usual punishment for people convicted of sorcery was death. This mask was originally collected by Nji Idriss Mbombo during his travels in Central Africa. Another real favourite in the collection. The deliberate facial distortions are used to create a terrifying semi-human being, who instilled fears onto the neutral onlookers as much as onto the judged sorcerer. The most striking element of this mask is the open mouth with its gruesome display of the teeth.

g22. ntumu statue

fang, Gabon
Wood, Height 52cm

This statue displays the typical round features of the Ntumu substyle. It has no added decoration, but it displays very bold facial features with scarifications and prominent and expertly executed mouth and teeth. The right breast is very slightly chipped, otherwise in perfect condition.

g23. Byeri basket

fang gabon,
tree bark, Height 32cm

This basket used to hold relics of important ancestors. Attached on top of the basket was a guardian statue. One can clearly see the indentation on top of the lid where the feet were attached to the basket. A tree bark container on it’s own is something very special, even without the historical importance of the contents.

g24. initiation figure

fang, Gabon
Wood, Height 34cm

This rare statue was used as a medium to enable a group of initiation inmates to communicate with the spirits of the ancestors. It was collected by Nji Idriss Mbombo during one of his business trips in the 1970’s. It is quite rare and unusual to find Fang sculptures other than Byeri reliquary guardians, and as such is quite special. The scarification marks are very detailed and each line would have had a specific meaning for the initiates to learn about. This is a very special and very old piece.

g25. Community mask

, Fang, Gabon
wood, horn, raffia height 53cm

This is a once in a life time mask. Over a period of three years it was paraded right throughout the Fang territory, from Southern Cameroon through Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon visiting all regional communities and emphasising the common history. Each horn represents one of the various tribes or larger subtribes. One slightly larger horn at the back is displayed for the original Fang community, where the foundation to their history and culture was laid. My friend Salim got it directly from Gabon for the collection. 

g26. BYERI STATUE

Fang, , Gabon
Wood, metal Height 57cm

A nortern Fang statue of the Mabea style, an artistic style which is slightly more realistic than sculptures from most other subtribes. Copper elements were placed above the eyes and on the forehead. Metal eyes were inserted, in this statue this is probably an indication and a symbol of clairvoyance. This is a very old statue with most parts covered with thick encrustation. 

g27. statue of female

Betsi azman style, Fang, Gabon
hardwood, height 50cm

Carved out of extremely decorative dark brown solid hardwood. The colours of the wood and the prominent woodgrain are the only decoration required. The traditional round features are exquisitely carved and the surface is perfectly smooth. A clasp was inserted in the throat area to prevent the wood from splitting further. 

g28. FANG BYERI STATUE

ngumba style, cameroon
Wood, beads, Height 48cm

This male Byeri statue hails from the northern Fang who reside in Gabon, Equitorial Guinea, and Southern Cameroon. Metal eyes are inserted to demonstrate the ability of clairvoyance. The only other decoration is a waist band out of red glass beads. There is a hole on the side of the neck which was used to “feed” the statue with palm oil.

g31 initiation drum

Fang, Gabon
wood, cow hide,pigment height 59cm

This very unique drum was created and used for initiation ceremonies only. It accompanied the young boys in their ordeal and was brought back with them as they returned in triumph as young men. The drum is in a lovely shape with geometric designs. The long neck (handle) shows exquisite woodgrain and the facial feature is in typical Fang style, but with an accent on youth. It was always kept and displayed on this little mat tray.

g32 FANG BYERI STATUE

okak style, gabon, equatorial guinea
Wood, beads, metal Height 48cm

This statue is in typical Okak style, a robust figure with dark oily patina. It has elegant yet simple beaded jewellery around the neck, waist, and the ankles. The eyes are highlighted and created with a round brass pin. This is to emphasise the guardians ability to have vision beyond the normal. Many of the Fang people, especially in Equatorial Guinea have actual piercing sharp eyes. The rounded, yet triangular face is also typical of the Okak style.

g33 Mvudi Mask

Aduma, Gabon
wood,pigment height 60cm

The Aduma are known as fine boatmen of the Ogooue Basin, a link to the great Congo river in Eastern Gabon. Originally the face and forehead were white with only the nose and ears displaying the natural wood colour plus the red areas on the sides of the forehead.. The erosion of the white paint over the years makes the mask even more pronounced. The long shape of the face reminds of the Ngil mask of the neighbouring Fang, while the projected forehead is similar in style to Ambete carvings. This mask was originally collected by Nji Mboumbou Arouna Idriss who travelled all across West and Central Africa from the 1950’s to the 1980’s.the middle 

g34 FANG BYERI STATUE

, gabon, equatorial guinea
Wood, Height 60cm

This statue does not seem to fit any of the more prominent styles or substyles. A very robust and relatively realistic looking figure, holding 2 cups. The most unusual and outstanding feature is the almost helmet like hairstyle, and the fact that he carries or offers two cups instead of the usual one. Very dark patina, but over the years much of the colouration has come off and the natural would is shining through in parts. 

g29. Ancestor statue

betsi azman style, Fang, Gabon
hardwood,height 42cm

Carved out of dark brown solid hardwood. The most prominent and very unusual aspects of the statue are the facial markings carved on both sides of the face. The symbols are reminiscent of Ngil society masks, but very rarely feature on statues, especially one depicting a female ancestor. The mouth is finely carved, featuring a slightly open mouth displaying the teeth and the tongue.

g30. southern FANG BYERI STATUE

Mvaai style, gabon,
Wood, copper, Height 48cm

Carved out of etremely smooth and finely grained dark hardwood. A necklace is carved out of the wood , while two bronze  wrist bands were added as the only other decoration. The wood shows very old aging marks, which only add to the appearance of this otherwise perfect carving.

g35. male Ancestor statue

Ngumba Fang, cameroon
wood,brass, cowrie shells, height 58cm

The Nguma were integrated into the larger Fang community over the last 100 years. They wre originally of Maka descent, living in the extreme south eastern part of Cameroon, bordering the Congo Republik. This amazing statue shows off the best of Ngumba style which is still influenced by their Congo heritage, where they lived in close vicinity to the Kota and learned to use brass and bronze decorations, plus the use of cowrie shells to enhance the presentation.

g 36. female ancestor

ngumba fang, cameroon,
Wood, brass, cowrie shells, Height 49cm

The Nguma believed that prosperity, wealth, and fertility of the entire community depended entirely on their ancestors. As such their ancestor statues were adored and treated like the natural representatives of the ancestors. No money was spared in creating the most exquisite statues, which were status symbols and displayed by the wealthy. The usage of cowrie shells in Fang statues is extremely rare, and a definite indication that the owners must have been quite wealthy, as cowry shells were used as a currency.

g37. female Ancestor statue

Ngumba Fang, cameroon
wood, cowrie shells, height 49cm,

This is an extremely powerful statue. The legs are planted in the ground so firmly that it looks unmovable. The round face with the slightly overhanging forehead, wide mouth with pursed lips and big round eyes gives the  impression of someone totally in control. The big hairstyle enhanced with cowrie shells only adds to this impression. She holds a baby in her hands, which is unusual for a Fang statue. It probably depicts a mother who had many famous and successful children. The figure is in excellent condition, despite the left side of the head having been fixed and held together with metal clasps as can be seen on the image. 

g 38. male ancestor statue

mvai fang, gabon,
Wood, brass, height 54cm

This reliquary statue is a real masterpiece. Beautiful wood which is in excellent condition, but at the same time displays the ravages of age. My friend Salifou travelled through Gabon for 2 years, walking on foot from village to village, in order to learn about the mysteries of Fang and Kota culture. This statue was given to him by a chief from a village where he stayed for more than a month and assisted the clan wherever possible.  The village has a little church building dated 1910, so it can be assumed the the statue was created before that time. It has a smooth and shiny finish, created by rubbing and polishing by a multitude of hands over the years.

The Kota

The Kota are located in the Eastern parts of Gabon close to the border with the Republic of Congo. They are thought to have migrated there during the 18th century. Possibly influenced over time by neighbouring tribes like the Fang, they kept bark boxes or baskets called BWETE in which a selection of bones, especially the skulls of important chiefs or ancestors were kept. A carved figure was inserted into the box to guard the reliquaries. The various styles of these figures are completely unique to the Kota, very flat, largely two dimensional and almost completely covered with copper sheeting. Copper was very rare and expensive, so the extensive use of the material underlines the importance that was allocated to the Bwete figures. There are various substyles in different areas , some of the more important ones being the Mahongwe, Sango, Shamaye, and Obamba.

The Kota

The Kota are located in the Eastern parts of Gabon close to the border with the Republic of Congo. They are thought to have migrated there during the 18th century. Possibly influenced over time by neighbouring tribes like the Fang, they kept bark boxes or baskets called BWETE in which a selection of bones, especially the skulls of important chiefs or ancestors were kept. A carved figure was inserted into the box to guard the reliquaries. The various styles of these figures are completely unique to the Kota, very flat, largely two dimensional and almost completely covered with copper sheeting. Copper was very rare and expensive, so the extensive use of the material underlines the importance that was allocated to the Bwete figures. There are various substyles in different areas , some of the more important ones being the Mahongwe, Sango, Shamaye, and Obamba.

g31. BWETE STATUE

kota, gabon
wood, copper 60cm high

Made with two colour shades of copper. Quite strangely, while the statue displays a rather cheerful mouth, there seem to be tears under the eyes. Well proportioned carving with lovely features and a rather subdued and sophisticated colouration. 

Good condition, just the wooden part of the left “leg” is slightly chipped.

g32. BWETE STATUE

kota, gabon
wood, copper 58cm high

Made with two different colour shades of copper. This is actually one of my favourites. When I received it, it was covered with all kinds of grime which didn’t make sense to me. I was unsure whether it was years of sacrificial outpourings of grieve, or just a way to make the statue look older. I decided on the second option and to my delight uncovered a real gem. The eye disks are made from ivory.

g33. THROWING KNIFE

Kota, Gabon
Height 43cm, Copper and iron

Throwing knife in the shape of a birds head, with the beak used as the sharp end of the blade. 

A well proportioned weapon with the handle in perfect condition, the blade is obviously quite rusted.

g34. BWETE STATUE

kota, gabon
Wood and copper Height 62cm

Obamba style from northeast Gabon. A strong and powerful piece with lots of intricate detail. It has extremely varied and different copper design treatment on each section. One of the strongest features is the beautifully aged wood grain on the back.

g35. KOTA BWETE STATUE

Height 53cm
Wood and two tone copper

This is a superb statue. It hails from from the village Ndasane in Northern Gabon. An old and weathered piece, it is still in remarkable condition. Various geometric designs combine to create an attractive well balanced finish. It has quite visible and dramatic wood erosion on the back which adds to the impact, while the metal sheets on the front display colourful erosion.

g36. KOTA BWETE STATUE

Obamba style, Height 52cm
Wood and copper

A rather bright and shiny statue. Even the proportions and shape seem to be quite cheerful compared to most Kota pieces. The numerous individual small squares and dots were created as a direct representation of the sun which gives guidance and light to the people. This statue is a real positive statement. Part of the design pattern is repeated on the back in the wood.

g37. KOTA STATUE

Obamba style, 184cm
A life size statue

This large statue obviously didn’t fit into the Mbete basket, but was used as a stand alone guardian figure. Such a large figure would most probably have been used on special occasions only and belonged to the community instead of an individual or a family as is the case normally. The large areas of copper usage are quite unique.

g38. BWETE basket AND STATUE

Sango style, Height 76cm
wood, copper, bones, vegetable fibres

Small elongated head in typical Sango style. Not many Bwete baskets remain intact. These baskets and their contents were kept for generations, but especially during the 1950’s and 1960’s when religious beliefs changed drastically, most of them were abandoned or destroyed, but fortunately some were kept by their owners and more can possibly still be found today. 

g39. RATTLE AND GOBLET

Height 45cm
Wood, copper, iron, ivory

The rattle was shaken as a music instrument to warm up and create a positive atmosphere at gatherings before the arrival of the chief. After the chief’s arrival it was filled up with palm wine and handed over to him . He would then share it with his guardians, as a safety measure letting them drink first to ensure they would not betray him and it was safe for him to partake in the occasion. A rare and very beautiful piece. The eyes are made with ivory disks. 

g40. RATTLE AND GOBLET

Kota, Bakwele tribe, Height 45cm
Wood, copper, ivory

This is a similar goblet to the one described before,  but unfortunately some parts of the statue are missing, especially the left eye and a part of the hairstyle on the left. Many old pieces have been stolen over the years, or were forcefully removed from their position at a shrine, this is possibly what happened here. The eye disc is made from ivory

g41. HELMET MASK

Kota, Gabon
Height 50cm

A very unusual piece as the Kota are not really known to create ceramics as a regular art form.. The shapes of the figures on the side are definitely in the traditional two-dimensional style of Kota reliquary statues, as are the facial features above, but even more pronounced is the shape of a snakes head. Very good condition, except for some part of the base rim, which is chipped off.

g42. BELLOWS

Kota, Gabon
Wood, metal, leather, shells, Height 40cm

Bellows were used as part of traditional craftmanship by all the peoples in Gabon, especially the Fang. But this outstanding piece is definitely of Kota origin, with it’s delicate pattern details, metal studs and general attention to detail. Over the years the various tribes of Gabon lived in close relationships and were influenced by intermarriage, and as such learning and copying each others habits and traditions.

The Punu and Ambete

The Punu reside in the southern regions of Gabon, where they migrated to in the 18th century from Angola’s Luango kingdom. They live in independent small villages which are divided into clans and families. The Punu are famous for their white masks, most of them associated with a female ancestor. The masks are paraded at funerals and performed by members of the Moukouji society who move around on stilts. Dark face masks have similar stylistic features and have judiciary functions. Punu statues are quite rare and have similar facial features as the masks. They were kept together with ancestral bones next to a reliquary box. Carved windows and doors are another feature of Punu society.

The Ambete are famous for their carved statues with hollowed out backs which act as reliquary containers. The Ambete are residing quite close to the larger Kota and Punu societies with whom they share many traditions.

g43. GRANARY DOOR

Punu, Gabon
Wood, Height 100cm

The three part coiffure and the image of a snake on top point to the Punu origin. The surface is heavily encrusted with a thick layer of patina, which adds to the rustic look, but also removes some of the finer detail. The wood is quite thick and heavy and the door is still in excellent condition. The carved elements are quite detailed, but some of the detail is not clearly visible as it is partly hidden by the encrusted surface. 

g44. IKWARA MOKULU MASK

( night mask)
Soft wood, Height 35cm

Punu masks generally have white faces and represent female ancestors. Black faced masks are most unusual. They are not allowed to be worn during daylight and are only used for important judiciary functions, or during epidemics, severe  ill health, or for pointing out the guilty during witchcraft sessions. This very rare and unusual old mask has an extremely elaborate hair style. Very good condition. Another favourite of mine.

g45. FEMALE ANCESTOR STATUE

punu, gabon,
wood Height 83cm

Painted with white, red, and black pigments. Punu statues are quite rare. They were kept next to ancestral bones in a reliquary box, and also used as prestige objects during important ceremonies. The face shows the usual delicate features of female Punu masks, and the body is decorated with large colourful symbols. The legs are bent and short, while the arms are extremely long, reaching down to the knees.

g46. ancestor PAIR

teke,gabon
wood, Height 143cm

Painted with red and black pigment. Very large cavities at the back to hold all kind of magical pieces or fragments. These unusually large statues were probably kept outside the chief’s house, used as witnesses at ceremonies, and also put into the fields during times of severe drought. Most of the back was hollowed out to hold the magical charge, called Bonga.

g47. RELIQUARY BOX STATUE

ambete, gabon
Wood, copper, iron, white pigment Height 82cm

. This is a female ancestor reliquary statue. The relics were stored inside the trunk of the statue, while the head is acting as a lid. The abundance of jewellery, the very elaborate hairstyle and the large areas decorated with copper are indications of a very important ancestor.  Excellent condition. The bulging forehead and the elaborate hairstyle are definitely  Ambete style, while the extensive usage of  copper sheeting was probably influenced by their near neighbours, the Kota.

g48. MALE RELIQUARY FIGURE

Ambete, Gabon
Wood, straw, cowrie shells, Height 80cm

Very old natural patina. The opening at the back is closed with a perfectly fitted door. The cavity was used to hold bones and other personal belongings of the deceased. This figure was “dressed up” with a raffia skirt for a ceremonial occasion, something that seems to have become a tradition with households that still honour the old traditions. The left leg at one stage got re-attached to the body, so it had to be partly cleaned of the encrusted patina.

g49. GRANARY DOOR

Punu, Gabon
Wood, colour pigments, Height 102cm

Splayed male. The male and female granary doors above were made as a pair. Both are in excellent condition, probably from the 1950’s.

g50. GRANARY DOOR

Punu, Gabon
Wood, colour pigments, Height 110cm

Splayed female. The female figure is very composed and serene, while the male figure is quite cheerful and even cheeky, poking out his tongue to the viewer 

g51. TRADITIONAL DOOR WITH SNAKES

Punu, Congo Brazzaville
Wood, Colour pigments, Height 200cm

Male and females in typical Punu splayed position, holding very large snakes above their heads.

g52. TRADITIONAL DOOR WITH SNAKES

Punu, Congo Brazzaville
Wood, Colour pigments, Height 200cm

These doors are from the village of Niari in Congo Brazzaville, very much the original homeland of the Punu before most moved further north to Gabon. Both doors used to be in the rectangular house of the Temple of Bwiti, located in the Forest of Divinie.

g52. TRADITIONAL DOOR (White)

Punu, Congo Brazzaville
Wood, colour pigments, Height 200cm

Males and females in typical Punu splayed position, holding rattles.

g53. TRADITIONAL DOOR (Dark)

Punu, Congo Brazzaville
Wood, Colour pigments, Height 200cm

These doors were originally used in a Bwini temple in the vicinity of Bouenza.

g54. ancestor statue

Punu, Gabon
wood, Height 53cm

Punu artists carved small statues of female ancestors, showing similar features as the famed Punu masks. The statues were kept next to the reliquaries as prestige objects. This carving is really beautifully finished with raised scarifications and white and black pigment to enhance the visual impact. This statue like so many comes directly from Nji Idriss Mbombo, the father of my good friend Abraham, collected on his travels between the 1950’s and the 1980’s. 

g55. reliquary statue

mitsogho, Gabon
wood,raffia, feathers,pigment, Height 45cm

The Mitsogho are related to the Punu and the Fang. This statue  was used to consult with the ancestral spirits. A hole was made through the neck area into which a wooden stick is inserted. Palm oil was then poured into the hole and then gauged with the stick. The oil would have come into contact with the reliquary pieces at the bottom of the basket. The colour the oil had changed to was then interpreted by an initiate and the meaning  conveyed to the community.

g56. TRADITIONAL DOOR

Punu, Congo Brazzaville
Height 200cm

Besides the traditional male and female figures displayed, extra female faces  were added  at the top and bottom sections as additional emphasis. This door comes from Bouenza in Congo- Brazzaville. 

g57. male statue

ambete, Gabon
wood, pigment Height 62cm

The Ambete live close to the border with the Republik of Congo. They are related to the Kota and have also been influenced by the Fang and of course their neighbours the Punu. This statue was placred next to the reliquaries.

g58. reliquary basket

mitsogho, gabon
Wood,bones,horns, raffia, Height 37cm

The Mitsogho live in remote dense forest areas in south central Gabon. They make their living from fishing and agriculture.  Reliquary statues are normally upper torsos or just heads sitting on top of a basket which holds the relics of the ancestor. The Janus style head shows the typical open mouth with prominent teeth and the round eyes. 

g59. mukudj mask

Punu, Gabon
Height 25cm

Mukudj masks are representing especially beautiful women from the past and the present. Most Punu masks share similar features of the high coiffure, domed forehead, pursed lips, and the raised scarifications on the temples and forehead. This particular very delicately carved mask is still in excellent condition except for a slight damage to the left ear.

g60 Window panel, male

punu, gabon
Wood,bpaint, Height 100cm

This male window panel and the following female window are originally from the Temple of Bwiti, located in the Forest of Divine. This traditional temple is now solely used for Christian rites and the traditional decorations had to give way. Both the male and female on the next image look very cheerful with extensive usage of yellow pigment. 

g61 window panel, female

Punu, Gabon
Height 100cm

The bright colouring conveys a positive and very happy attitude. Both pieces are still in good condition, but the male panel is slightly damaged at the bottom right corner, which probably happened when the windows were removed by force, either by religious zealots or by thieves who saw an opportunity.

g62 shield

punu, gabon
Wood, paint remnants, Height 56cm

A remarkable piece and very old. Typical Punu facial features with scarification on the forehead. The eyes are slightly larger and more pronounced than usual. The face was originally painted white. Remnants of white paint is still visible on the left side of the face, especially around the eyes. The left ear shows hints of orange colouring, it probably was red originally. The shield was not used for fighting, but during magical ceremonies, or for preparing the warriors to fight. This shield is an old heirloom from my friend Abraham, who needed to raise enough money to attend the funeral of Sultan El Haj Ibrahim Mbombo Njoya, King of the Bamun. 

g63 Female statue

Punu, Gabon
Height 65cm

Black statue and faces are quite unusual in Punu culture. The colour black is thought to have judiciary function. The statue has scarification marks on face and stomach, Jewellery is displayed around the neck and the wrists. The raised arm could be interpreted as a sign of greeting from the ancestors.

g64 Mahongwe statue

kota, gabon
Wood, copper, Height 80cm

The oldest relics are thought to come from the Mahongwe. They also display the most dramatic, abstract, and most simplified style of all the Kota tribes. It consists basically of a flat wooden mask with the front covered in layers of copper sheeting. The shape of the head is similar to that of a snake. The only features shown in any detail are the eyes and the nose.

g65 sango throwing knife

kota, Gabon
Height 70cm

Sango statues have their faces set on a disproportionately long neck. This piece has an oval facial structures with round eyes and a bulging forehead. The most remarkable feature is the shape of a throwing knife at the base instead of the normal indication of legs. The mask is in excellent condition and a vey attractive addition to the collection

g66 kota figure

kota, gabon
Wood, copper, Height 50cm

This is a very decorative statue. Rich ornamental squares cover most of the forehead with an interatecolour display from red copper to a green tinge.  The reverse of the statue is delicately designed and executed.

g67 obamba Statue

kota, Gabon
wood, copper, Height 50cm

The Obamba statues generally have an oval face with a curved coiffure. All these reliqueries were oiriginally set in a bundle or basket of relics. The copper part were regularly rubbed with sand to keep them shiny.

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