Bakota Reliquary Figure
Wood, brass, patina of age.
inches tall x inches length x inches wide.
18th – 19th Century.
Private USA collection
No known exhibitions
No known publications
Used in ancestral worship rituals, this spectacular abstract, geometric figure, first sculpted in wood before being elegantly bound and woven in strips of copper and brass, was created to be a reliquary custodian. It was mounted on a container holding the bones of important clan ancestors, not only to serve as a guardian, but also meant to bestow protection and fertility upon the Kota peoples (Bakota). It would have been brought out by initiates and displayed during important funeral and dance ceremonies as well. The crescent projection above the face is an elaborate coiffure, a signature style of Bakota statues. The diamond shape below the neck is an abstracted body form. In earlier authentic versions such as this, an abstraction of the frontal face was also traced out on the bare wooded rear, making the sculpture two-sided. This stunning sculpture would be the highlight and a bragging right of any caliber of connoisseurship.
African ancestral worship is a spiritual devotion that pays homage to, remembers and reveres deceased progenitors, while at the same time appeal for their mediation. It endures as a prevalent ritual even among contemporary African cultures. Although the unreserved and constant demonization of ancestor veneration by advocates of other major religions have greatly stigmatized the practice, the same practice of religious piety exists in different forms in major religions too. For instance, among Catholics, it is known as “devotions to the angels and saints”. The truth is, ancestral worship among Africans is but an aspect of a complex religious systems, never a religion in itself. It is related to beliefs that the dead have a continued existence, and may possess the ability to influence the fortune of the living.