Ancestor Shrines

By Eileen Moyer
University of Amsterdam (formerly University of Iowa)

GuineaBaga peoples

Elek (shrine object)

Wood, brass upholstery tacks

L. 80 cm (31")

The University of Iowa Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.541

Baga elek figures such as this one represent the family lineage. They were placed upon the family shrines, normally in the house where the eldest member of the lineage lived. Offerings were made in hopes of assuring protection from malevolent forces. The orifices in the base and the head were at one time packed with medicines. Horns that were filled with powders and magical remedies were stuffed into the holes and tied around the neck. Paulme indicates that elek figures would attend the funerals of important people connected to the family and that the figure itself not only provided protection for the lineage, but was also the most visible symbol of the group (Paulme in Vogel 1981: 51). It is important to note that objects such as this one have been stripped of the accumulated medicines that would have protected it in situ and no longer have the power that its original owners would have attributed to it. After removal of the protective medicines, a family is able to sell such objects to art collectors without offending the lineage.