Mahongwe Bwiti Figure
Wood, metal, patina of age.
13.5 inches tall (34.3 cm)
Early 20th Century.
No known exhibitions
No known publications
The primary religion of the Mahongwe was a well-defined ancestor cult. predecessors’ corpses were buried in the forest. After a suitable interval, the skulls of prominent venerated predecessors were excavated and, as a sort of ‘second burial’, were placed in large baskets with other commemoration pieces. These baskets were sealed and preserved in special huts, considered sacred shrines. If the village was moved, the baskets containing the bones of the ancestors accompanied the tribe to the new location, where a new, sacred shrine was constructed.
On each of these baskets containing the ancestor’s bones, a reliquary guardian figure carved from wood and covered with brass plates or copper strips towered over each basket.
According to Dr. Louis Perrois (France), one of the greatest connoisseurs of the art of Gabon, “many reliquary guardian figures of this type were collected during the 1920s and 30s.