Bakota Reliquary Figure from Gabon or the Democratic Republic of Congo Carved out of a very hard wood sheathed in Brass.
There is some tape adhesive at the top. It can be removed with oil or WD-40.
The Kota revere the relics of ancestors. Ancestor worship formed the core of the family group's religious and social life. At the death of a chief, the initiates would take from the body of the deceased various relics, which were then decorated with metal and rubbed with powders of multiple magical powers.
The Kota have produced large quantity of statues of ancestors with the diamond-shaped lower part called mbulu-ngulu; these rather two-dimensional sculptures are in wood; symbolic metals were applied to the upper part in strips or sheets to add power. Copper in particular was identified with longevity and power. These statues stood guard in cylindrical bark boxes, on baskets or bundles called bwete that contained the skulls and bones of important ancestors. Bound into a packet and lashed to the base of a carved figure, the bones formed a stable base that allowed the image to stand more or less upright.
The reliquaries were kept outside the homes, in huts at the edge of the village. Only the initiates of the lineage had access to this sacred place. At the time of initiation in the reliquary cult, the clans would meet to perform communal rituals; each clan's chief would dance holding the reliquary. Some reliquaries featured a large figure representing the lineage founder along with some smaller figures representing his successors. There are figures with two identical or different faces made on two opposite sides of the flat head. The bwete was called on in time of crisis to combat unseen agents of harm. Its intercession was sought in such vital matters as fertility, success in hunting, and in commercial ventures. A husband could use it to guard against his wife's infidelity, for it was believed that if he placed pieces of her clothing in the reliquary, an unfaithful wife would be driven mad. Families took their bwete to ceremonies of neighboring villages to strengthen the allied community. The display of the bundles and their shiny, visually riveting figures was accompanied by feasting, dancing, and the making of protective medicines. These bwete were kept for generations, but during the 20th century, when religious beliefs changed, they were abandoned or even destroyed.
These are tremendously beautiful masks from Gabon. Really gorgeous.
This one measures 16 x 7 inches. The condition is as shown in the pictures.
This is some information about these masks from the Met Museum website and the Art Institute of Chicago website:
In the Punu communities of southern Gabon, mukudj masks are considered portraits of an exceptionally beautiful female member. The coiffure, featuring a prominent sagittal lobe flanked by two lateral tresses, is a classic style of dressing women's hair practiced throughout the region during the nineteenth century. Lozenge cicatrization markings were incised on the forehead and temples of Punu women as a form of aesthetic embellishment and a sign of sensuality. Classic mukudj masks often emphasize a subdivision of the motif into nine units, which is significant in light of the fact that, among the Punu, nine is considered a mystically powerful number and a catalyst in the healing process. In mukudj mask representations, the prominence of the number nine, as well as the red band that accentuates the hairline, make reference to the mystical powers commanded by the dancer. It is those powers that are believed to provide him with the talent and protection necessary to perform. The stylized rendering of the eyes, represented as closed slits, evokes a meditative serenity while at the same time affording the wearer an unobstructed view of the performance arena he must negotiate. The application of white kaolin to the surface of the masks is a reference to spiritual transcendence. The white clay is a sacred material linked to the parallel ancestral realm of existence and also a cosmetic associated with idealized beauty.
Mukudj dances are commissioned by community leaders to mark important occasions-to commemorate the memory of an important member of the community, to celebrate the return or the visit of an honored individual, or to mark a development that will enhance the community's well-being. The mukudj dance is performed on stilts of up to three meters in height; dancers must train from childhood to master the difficult and demanding choreography. During official celebrations, a mukudj dancer towers above his audience and executes acrobatic feats that demand agility, strength, and an acute sense of equilibrium. Because of the extraordinary nature of the performance, dancers are perceived as exceptional individuals who draw upon mystical powers to accomplish such a feat. The thrilling spectacle of mukudj performances alternates between passages of lyrical grace and explosive power.
Mukudj performances are appreciated as the most aesthetically appealing and exciting form of expression in Punu culture and consequently have become a national icon of Gabon. Mukudj masks are displayed as proud insignia of Punu cultural identity in domestic contexts in the capital, Libreville, as well as in rural villages of the remote interior.
This mask is defined by an elaborate and highly stylized bi-lobed coiffure, painted black, which frames an idealized female face. The face is painted white with kaolin, which both references the earthly beauty of the woman represented and symbolizes the spirits of past ancestors. The diamond-shaped scarification marks on the forehead and the square-shaped marks on the temples emphasize the perfect, symmetrical beauty of the face, with its dramatically arched eyebrows, almond-shaped slit eyes, small ears, delicate nose, and slightly protruding mouth and chin. Mukudj masks became extremely popular among European art collectors during the 1920s and 1930s, as their aestheticized and abstract attributes intersected with the ideals of modern art. Today the Punu especially embrace the mukudj mask as a sign of ethnic identity, thus often displaying them within their private domestic spaces and incorporating them into a host of celebrations and communal events.
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This one measures 13 x 7 inches. It is old and of high quality. The condition is as shown in the pictures.
The Kwele masks of Gabon are used during initiation ceremonies and or at the end of a mourning period. The masks represent the spirits of the forest. The face of the masks are normally painted with white kaolin, the white represents the spirit world (peace and tranquility.
The Kwele believe in witchcraft and blame all their personal and social ills on its influence. The Kwele protect themselves against the power of witchcraft with the 'beete' ritual.
The 'beete' is a ritual that involves purification by the spirits who are represented in the form of 'ekuk' masks. 'Ekuk' means the 'spirits of the forest' and the 'children of the beete'. Kwele masks represent the antelope whose flesh was eaten at the end of the 'beete' ritual.
Kwele masks have two large horns which sometimes encircle and frame the face. Areas of the face are often painted with white kaolin clay, the color of the spirits. Kwele 'ekuk' masks are beautifully stylised with a heart shaped face, almond shaped eyes and a small or non-existent mouth.