Reintegration / Ancestors

By Monica Demott
(formerly University of Iowa)

Gabon; Kota-Mahongwe peoples

Bwete (reliquary guardian figure)

Wood, brass, copper

H. 51.4 cm (20")

The University of Iowa Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.297

In northern Gabon, Kota-Mahongwe peoples produce reliquary guardians called bwete, which consist of simplified features on a concave, leaf-shaped face.  The northern Mahongwe figures, including this example, were covered with flattened brass and copper wire, while the southern Obamba figures were covered with sheets of copper and brass cut from European containers acquired through trade.  Both styles were mounted on baskets that contained the bones of their ancestors.  Like Fang examples, Kota guardians function to protect the ancestral relics and are not intended as representations of the deceased.  The guardians were offered sacrifices and invoked for health and success.