|Kota reliquary figure
|Two Kota-Obama men arrive at a Swedish mission post in French Equitorial
Africa, present-day Congo-Brazzaville, to hand over reliquary figures.
Photographed by the Swedish missionary G.A. Jacobsson, probably in 1917
|Reliquaries seen by P.S. de Brazza
"Voyages dans l'Quest african"
Le Tour Du Monde, Paris, 1887
|The Kota live in villages comprising two or more clans. Clans in turn comprise several lineages or family groups that trace their descent
from a common lineage ancestor. This is an important point related to their art, for like the Fang, the Kota revere the relics of ancestors.
Ancestor worship formed the core of the family group’s religious and social life. At the death of a chief, the initiates would take from the
body of the deceased various relics, which were then decorated with metal and rubbed with powders of multiple magical powers. The
Kota have produced large quantity of statues of ancestors with the diamond-shaped lower part called mbulu-ngulu; these rather two-
dimensional sculptures are in wood; symbolic metals were applied to the upper part in strips or sheets to add power. Copper in
particular was identified with longevity and power. These statues stood guard in cylindrical bark boxes, on baskets or bundles called
bwete that contained the skulls and bones of important ancestors. Bound into a packet and lashed to the base of a carved figure, the
bones formed a stable base that allowed the image to stand more or less upright. Thanks to the diversity of the groups, scattered over
a vast area, a great variety of different styles of figures has developed, some of them endogenous and some influenced by neighboring
styles. Kota figures represent an extremely stylized human body, reduced to shoulders and “arms,” in emptied lozenge shape,
surmounted by a large face framed by an ample coiffure with hanging tresses. The face, always oval, may be concave (female), convex
(male) or concave-convex, with a forehead in quarter-sphere (also male). The reliquaries were kept outside the homes, in huts at the
edge of the village. Only the initiates of the lineage had access to this sacred place. At the time of initiation in the reliquary cult, the
clans would meet to perform communal rituals; each clan’s chief would dance holding the reliquary. Some reliquaries featured a large
figure representing the lineage founder along with some smaller figures representing his successors. There are figures with two
identical or different faces made on two opposite sides of the flat head.
The bwete was called on in time of crisis to combat unseen agents of harm. Its intercession was sought in such vital matters as fertility,
success in hunting, and in commercial ventures. A husband could use it to guard against his wife’s infidelity, for it was believed that if he
placed pieces of her clothing in the reliquary, an unfaithful wife would be driven mad. Families took their bwete to ceremonies of
neighboring villages to strengthen the allied community. The display of the bundles and their shiny, visually riveting figures was
accompanied by feasting, dancing, and the making of protective medicines. These bwete were kept for generations, but during the 20th
century, when religious beliefs changed, they were abandoned or even destroyed.
Source: Robin Poynor - A History of Art in AFrica
|20" tall x 10" across
(THIS OBJECT IS NO LONGER IN MY COLLECTION)
Provenance: Dr. Otto Billigs (1910 - 1989) Collection.
Dr. Billigs was a Psychiatrist, published author and art collector
Through some research, this figure was traced back to have links to a gallery in France, most likely around the time frame of 1950-1960, and
photos of the piece were sent to me that came from the gallery and I am still doing research to trace the origins on this figure.
Below the photos is some additional information on my figure that is interesting
|This piece was in the exhibition "Grave Matters - The Art of Memory and Mourning" at the Loveland Art Museum in Colorado (shown above)
|My new photo style
Still not perfect, but it's a big improvement
|My old photo style
|Above is the photograph (scaled down considerably) of the group of objects that was mentioned that was in the reference files in a gallery in
France. Unfortunately the owner of the gallery wished to remain anonymous so I can't contact him to find out more about his recollection of
this photograph and the approximate date. It is an old black and white photograph and I really wish that I could find out more about it.
I was also sent a close up old photo of my figure and in the old photograph the eyes were different, they have been restored as it is
mentioned in the analysis above.
So it's still a bit of a mystery to me, but it is an interesting history and maybe someday I will find out more.
Kota mbulu ngulu figures
|Rand African Art