Gabon, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea
BYERI head

The byeri cult is a cult among the Fang that honored ancestral spirits.  In a broad sense, the word “byeri”
means “ancestor” and figures with the same name were made to be placed on the bark boxes called nsek-byeri
that contained the skull(s) of an important family member(s) (man or woman). Very few people were allowed to
see the contents of the nsek-byeri and the privilege was usually given to one of the mature sons of the family
who is given the responsibility of caring for the byeri objects and maintaining proper rituals. Non-family
members were never allowed to see the contents of the nsek-byeri.

The nsek-byeri was kept in a special room in the house and was only opened on special occasion. The
sculpted byeri figures or heads served as a guardian to frighten away intruders. The figures generally
represented the collective dead of the family instead of representing any one particular family member.

From 1930 on, traditional Fang religion and art underwent a drastic transformation, until byeri figures were no
longer made and their cult no longer maintained.

References - African Aesthetics
It is tempting for historians of African art to place the various Fang sub-styles and the types of objects they produced within a chronological
perspective, notably when it comes to solitary heads. Given the present state of our knowledge, this is a most hazardous exercise. The historical
precedence presumed for these heads as compared to whole byeri figurettes, is unfounded. One has simply noted that the majority of such heads
that are known and documented, come from the right bank of the Ogowe River, in its middle course, in the regions of Abanga, Okano and the
Gabon estuary. No head has been localized further to the north, that is, in south Cameroun. One may suppose that at least in the nineteenth
century, solitary heads coexisted with full-size statuettes in many Betsi  and  Nzaman villages  of Woleu-Ntem.

Certain of these heads have a very characteristic coiffure, with a "helmet of tresses" of geometric design, framing the face with a markedly domed
forehead, very precisely recalling the hairpieces always worn by both men and women, made from rattan and vegetal wadding, and decorated with
cowries, glass beads, and often with shirt buttons of European making (afakh or nlo o ngo). The Fang heads, certain of them important
masterpieces, are often particularly finely sculpted works, in contrast to the figurettes whose subsidiary parts (hands, feet, sometimes limbs) are
often left in an sketchy state, with only the upper-body occupying much of the sculptor's concern.

Source: L. Perrois
I do not have a Fang head in my collection anymore.

The examples below are for reference purposes only.
The Fang heads below are from the
Carl Monzino Collection
Images from the book
"African Aesthetics"
Click on any picture to see full size version
Reliquary Guardian
Gabon, Fang
Wood, height 29 cm.
Ex coll.:        Ascher; Jacob Epstein
Exhibited:     Paris, Galerie Pigaile. 1930; London. USE Arts Council of Great Britain, 1960
Published:    Paris. Gaierie Pigalle 1930. no, 168;
Fagg 1960, no. 1; Elisofon and Fagg 1958. p. 169; Perrois 1972, p. 325; Perrois 1979. p. 92
Reliquary Guardian
Gabon, Fang
Wood, nails, height 58.5 cm: height of face 24.5 cm.
Ex coll.:        Andre Detain
Exhibited:    Turin, Galleria Civica di Torino. 1971
Reliquary Guardian
Gabon, Fang
Wood, metal, height 32.5 cm.
Ex coll.:       Jacob Epstein
Exhibited:    London, The Arts Council of Great Britain. 1960
Published:    Elisofon and Fagg 1958, p. 166; Fagg 1960. no. 1; Tzara 1962. p. 48: Perrois 1972. p. 323
Reliquary Guardian
Gabon, Fang
Wood, metal, height 58 cm; height of face
Ex coll.:       Charles Ratton; Jacob Epstein
Exhibited:    London, The Arts Council of Great Britain, 1960
Published:    Fagg 1960, no. 1
Reliquary Guardian:
The Brummer Head"
Gabon, Fang
Wood, metal, height 63.5 cm.; head with coiffure 34 cm.
Ex coll.:       Joseph Brummer; Jacob Epstein

Exhibited:     Prague Skupyna Vytvarny Umelcu, 1913;
London, The Arts Council of Great Britain, 1960

Published:    Prague 1912, pp. 151, 201; Einstein 1915, pp. 16-17; Easier 1929, pi. 41a; Kjersmeier 1935-38, vol. 4, pi. 17;
Elisofon and Fagg 1958, p. 168; Fagg 1960, cover; Delange 1967, p. 140; Segy 1969, pi. 12; Perrois 1972 p. 93; Cork 1976, p.
The Fang heads below are from the
Armand Arman Collection
Images from the book
"African Faces, African Figures"
Fang (Okana Valley School), Gabon
20.5 cm
18.5 cm
Reliquary head
Gang-Ntumu, Gabon
Wood, metal' H 26cm
Formerly in the Charles Ratton Collection
To see additional Fang byeri heads and figures
click here
to go to my Fang style comparison page in my
You Be the Judge section of my website
Map source: