|I was told about the following study by Des Bovey while I was doing research for this subject. The only problem
was that the study was done in French. I found another site that had attempted to translate it but it was
incomplete and I didn't like the look of it so I decided to put my own page together with the help of the original
page and the partly translated page. I used components from both pages to form my page. It wasn't an easy task
even with the great translation tools on the Internet today.
It's a very good study in my opinion, but the text is very long, and it's not the easiest read since translating
doesn't always work perfectly as you will see if you attempt the read. I did the best I could and tried to use most of
the original images from the original study in the correct places. I did it with a white background this time so it will
hopefully be easier to read (if you have a few hours that is). I don't have the full study in a text form that I can
email anyone, so I hope it is readable as it is.
The study below is taken from "http://perso.wanadoo.fr/jacqver/kota/kota-a.htm" and then translated to English.
Reflections on the funerary art of the Kota - Gerard DELORME
1 Kota - Introduction
The traditional art of equatorial Africa is of a great richness and a great diversity. An area is particularly
characterized by its figures from wood reliquary plated from copper. It is located mainly in the east of Gabon by
overlapping however part of the territory of the Republic of Congo, called commonly Congo Brazza. The art of which
it all is that known as "Kota", precisely famous for its quality and the abstraction of its forms. Actually, and will further
return we there, the Kota term is used by simplification, including several ethnic groups having of common affinities.
The traditional art of equatorial Africa is of a great richness and a great diversity. An area is particularly
characterized by its figures from wood reliquary plated from copper. It is located mainly in the east of Gabon by
overlapping however part of the territory of the Republic of Congo, called commonly Congo Brazza. The art of which
it all is that known as "Kota", precisely famous for its quality and the abstraction of its forms. Actually, and will further
return we there, the Kota term is used by simplification, including several ethnic groups having of common affinities.
For our part, we will be interested in these pages in all the old objects of worship covered with copper of the "zone"
Kota by including there the figures of reliquary of Masango, close ethnic group whose worship of deaths is also
characterized by figures using this metal. According to people's concerned, these objects are called bwété, mboy,
mbulu-ngulu or mbum-Ba. To date, the attempts of study and classification led to results coarsely comparable. It
should first of all be stressed that work having a typological goal is far from numerous on this subject. Let us quote
in particular those of Louis Perrois, Alain and Francoise Chaffin and Ingeborg Bolz 2.
Because of the poverty and unreliability of information relating to the studied figures, typologies which were
elaborate until now are primarily descriptive. The authors who thought of the question were obliged to limit itself to
the comparative study of the overall forms and the ornamentations. One realizes quickly how much it is hazardous
to try to release from the precise relations with the ethnic sub-groups, with stronger reason with the villages and the
times. It is with this difficulty that our predecessors ran up: Alain and Francoise Chaffin are leaning on a significant
number of parts and made a meticulous work of study of the forms and various characteristics as well as various
elements of decoration. But they admit themselves that this classification, resting on the facial indices or the
proportions, does not appear to bring of satisfactory solution to release the broad outline of this art Kota '. They do
not seem to have taken into account the good elements making it possible to bind between them the various forms
and that led to certain anomalies in their catalogue and it is a pity. The classification which Louis Perrois proposes,
as for it, does not appear more obvious, on the level of the relations between the seven categories which he
It is essential that the work of classification precisely makes it possible to seize the evolution of a form well towards
another. Thus can one imagine to exceed the simple stage of description and classification to reach that of a true
"evolutionary" typology. Our reflexion shows that the whole of the forms of figures of reliquary Kota appears well to
lend itself to such a company and if one found the "key of it", the result could prove to be astonishing.
To advance in a surer way in this delicate subject, we solicited the councils of Jean-Claude Andrault who directed
during long years a hospital in this province of Haut-Ogooué, to the c?ur of the country Kota. Untiring, enthralling
and impassioned man, in particular of African art, it traversed this area length into broad to the research of the
vestiges and the comprehension of the art of these people. The fame of its talents of doctor opened certainly to him
many doors, even in the most moved back corners of bush. That it is thanked for its invaluable assistance and its
The objective that we thus fixed ourselves is, on the basis of work of our predecessors by drawing some the matter
for our research, to try to go a little further and to reveal a "dynamic" typology, allowing (perhaps!) to carry a
lighting on the relations of the types between them, primarily for the reliquaries of Kota of the south whose current
classification seems most confused; many other questions are still posed and, rather than answers, we will try to
bring elements of reflexion there; for example:
- can one associate quite precise types ethnic groups? This question already received brief replies and one agrees
today to allot such type of object to such ethnic group. But the blur always remains in detail and attributions are
- One also realizes that different styles cohabit within the same ethnic group. Which are the reasons? Are they
intended for different uses? Or are there several artistic schools coexisting in the same place?
- On this subject, can one recognize the "leg" of an artist on certain objects. Does these artists have a signature?
- do the form, the ornamentation have a direction clanic or ritual precise? Are they due only to the imagination or
the imagination of the executant?
- Which is the origin of this art? Until where is necessary it to go up, as well in time as geographically, to find the
roots of them and why always associates it copper?
The more one advances in the subject, the more the questions multiply and we will see thereafter that we will raise
others of them... One will undoubtedly realize that it is difficult to answer it while working only on the objects (and
more often on their photographs...) cut of their context and even of their time of use. The investigation, to be valid,
must be prolonged on the ground. And, as the worship attached to the reliquaries Kota does not seem any more to
be practised but exceptionally in rare places, one measures the difficulty of the task. In our opinion, the best method
would consist in being based with the universe Kota, living several years among these people and hastening to
collect testimonies of the old last, agents of the tradition. They are rare but there are always some.
Thus, beyond the simple descriptive but already interesting approach, couldn't one outline some ideas on the origin
of this extremely pure art, completed, which is thrown to us as a challenge by these warlike peasants of equatorial
Africa that of aucuns regard as primitive people? We underlined it: the interrogations are numerous and the difficult
task; but some answers can be interviews...
2 Kota - Definition of Kota
In the field of African traditional art, designation "art Kota" applies to ethnic groups with well marked diversities but
being characterized however by a strong linguistic and cultural identity. The following sub-groups are distinguished:
DEFINITION 5. L GROUP Kota
In north -. Bakota (5.5.), Mahongwé, Shaké, Ndambomo, Shamaye.
In the south: Obamba (Mbédé), Mindoumou, Bakanigui, Bawumbu, Mindassa, and Bakélé. We will notice that the
risks of their migrations and their conflicts at the XVIIIe century and the beginning of XIXe led the southernmost
ethnic groups (in their current position) to be burst in a not very homogeneous way: one will find as well of Obamba
towards the Sébé river in the north of Franceville as in direction of Sibiti in Congo. In the same way, Mindassa are
represented close to Ogooué in the area of Mounana but also in Congo while going on Zanaga.
One could be astonished to see Obamba which, from a ethnic point of view, are the principal representatives of the
group mbédé whose reliquaries are among most famous, being catalogued among Kota. Obamba, for their part, are
not recognized for of Kota. Certain authors also issued serious reserves as for their political alliance with this group
5; but, in the field of the art which first of all interests us in this note, we must recognize that we have to make with
ethnic groups presenting of many similarities in their origins, their languages and having especially jointly to
practise a worship of the ancestors with plated figures of copper reliquary. It is thus convenient to gather them
under the term "Kota" for which we will keep in mind that it is used in the broad sense, while recognizing that Kota in
a strict sense constitute only one of the components of this great cultural family.
Located in the south-west of Lastoursville, Masango, as for them, and as we noted will infra, are not directly related
in Kota. There too, the specialists would be astonished rightly to see them associated with name "Kota". Although
they are dissociated clearly by their size and their pace of the other figures Kota, it does not remain about it less
than their mbumba preserves very clear similarities: face covered with copper plates, long neck prolonged by a
structure in rhombus. It is thus logical not to exclude them from a research which, point out it, does not aim Kota in a
strict sense but "art known as Kota".
Fig. 1: The country Kota, the village of Tébé in 1972 (photo G Delorme).
Kota are currently installed in the East of Gabon, overflowing however in a rather significant way in Congo Brazza.
In a diagrammatic way, they occupy all the portion of territory located between the Ogooué river and the Ivindo
river, prolonged by its affluent Djouah, in the east of the confluence of these two great rivers. Towards the
North-East, the country kota is spread out largely in Congo Brazza upstream basin of Likouala. More in the south,
on the other hand, the country narrows on the level of Franceville, wedged in the east by the territories occupied by
Téké (with which they have close contacts) and in the west by those occupied by Bandjabi and Batsangui. It
develops kind a stalk which penetrates largely in Congo Brazza to stop a little more in north of Sibiti (cf pl.l). Thus
defined, the country kota covers, according to Perrois, a little more than 70000 km2, that is to say approximately the
quarter of the surface of Gabon6.
STATISTICAL ELEMENTS ON POPULATION KOTA
Obviously, these elements relate to only the relatively recent times and it is not possible to evaluate what could be
these populations, would be this only at the end of the XIXe century. It is known simply that their distribution was
dispersed and that the villages could have a size higher than what it is currently. We thus take again the data of
1961 of the National Service of the Statistics with Libreville reported by Perrois7. In 1961, one thus counts 41671
Kota remained in their area on a total of 48 506 on the whole of the Gabonese territory where one counts at this
time a total population of 456 300 inhabitants. With regard to Kota living in Congo Brazza, the data are less precise.
According to the estimates of Mgr Adam, former bishop of Franceville and famous specialist in Mbédé, it is
necessary to count in this country approximately 38000 Kota what carries the total of the population kota living to
the country to nearly 80000 people. Perrois evaluates the density of population to a little less than 1 inhabitant by
km2 As one can suspect it, this population is not divided in a homogeneous way on 70000 km2 of the country kota.
It gathers in small villages scattered along a skeletal road network. Outside the roads and except for temporary
campings of hunting, most of these areas is almost empty. For Gabon (we do not have unfortunately figures for
Congo), Pcrrois estimates the number of villages at approximately 500 (with an average of inhabitants per village of
THE NATURAL FRAMEWORK
Gabon is the kingdom of the dense equatorial forest. In detail, the forest landscape presents some nuances strings
at the nature of the basement, the action of the man and the climatic differences. Besides that shows that the drill is
in rather fragile balance, therefore precarious, and that weak variations of these parameters have strong
consequences on its maintenance or its disappearance. Very often, a more moderate pluviometry (for example,
about 1 500 mm annual compared to a national fork being established between 1400 and 3200 mm). results in the
appearance of savannas; the phenomenon is all the more marked if the substratum has a strong draining capacity
(sandstone, sands, karstifiées rocks carbonatécs). In spite of a rather high pluviometry (approaching the two
meters), the existence of this type of grounds, where the scrubbing of the grounds is accentuated, allows the
development of vast wide peeled, covered with close-cropped grass and sometimes, of shrubs rabougris: it is the
case of the Plates batékés in the east of Gabon, more largely extending still on Congo Bra/za. There, one would
believe oneself more readily in Sahd than in the heart of equatorial Africa. Several tens of meters thickness of
sands covering with sandy bases explain this anomaly on an area which however constitutes a water tower for the
surrounding regions and from which are born from many rivers. Actually, water is inserted immediately and
practically does not remain in the surface section of the ground; the usual vegetation of these regions cannot thus
develop to with it normally. In spite of a strong rainfall, the nature of the basement thus has a significant incidence
on the development of the vegetation, essential component of the environment.
Elsewhere, when the conditions do not allow the maintenance of a dense forest cover, one observes a typical
landscape of mosaic forest-savanna, being characterized by the general presence of savannas (with very high
grasses generally: about three meters) parcelled out by a rather tight network of gallery-forests.
In spite of its general retreat which one usually notes towards the latitudes sahclicnncs. it should be stressed that
on most of the Gabonese territory, the forest is currently in progression on savanna. On the area which interests
us, of many savannas "are gradually eaten" by the trees. This phenomenon is perceptible since several tens of
years at least '. The field of Kota, as for him, extends primarily on the drill, at least for north. Towards the south
(areas of Sébé. of Franccville. upstream on Ogooué), savannas with gallery-forests take a clear extension.
With regard to the relief, Gabon of the interior is a country never not presenting a truly mountainous character;
however, in consequence of a contemporary geological phase of renovation, it often offers in detail a strongly
dissected character: towards their courses upstreams. 1rs valleys is strongly printed in the substratum and marks
hollows frequently higher than the hundred meters. In Lastoursville for example Ogooué runs with dimension 230
whereas the tops of the neighbouring hills oscillate between 300 and 630 meters. If these hills are rather style
"profile out of half-orange" on the base terrazzo-gncissique, the sedimentary grounds of Francevillien' print a clear
morphology of plates, cucsias or flat-topped outliers (area of Moanda, for example). One of the historical top-places
of Kota, the Ngouadi Mount, is a long residual Precambrian sandstone flat-topped outlier dominating étrangement a
rather monotonous peneplain. The highest altitudes are met all in north in the area of Mékambo and Bélinga where
the peak of the iron hills reaches the altitude of 1 000 Mr. On whole sections of their course, certain rivers, on the
contrary, while arriving in zones of plains are spread out to give the vast ones trusted marshy (case of Liboumba. of
Because of raised pluviometry, the hydrographic network is dense. It is organized around the river Ogooué and of
the affluents left bank of Ivindo. itself flow of this river. These various rivers occur, towards the east, on the Plates
batékés. with the south-eastern borders of the country kota and towards the south on the solid mass of Chaillu.
Their positions upstream on the catchment areas do not make of them quite significant transportation routes. Even
the dugout is not used that on very short courses so much certain rivers can be narrow (and then encumbered of a
vegetable tumble), sinuous or intersected with various obstacles. Brazza for example, during its penetration of the
country in 1877 stopped its progression by the river with a few kilometers beyond Francevillc. with the falls of
Poubara. Although the valleys can determine axes for displacements, those take place primarily on the watersheds,
well-known ways of the elephants at the time of their peregrinations! It was certainly in the same way for the great
human migrations "
3 Kota - Elements of history
Without same wanting to go up very far, it is delicate to recall the broad outline, even summary, of the history of
The total lack of written tradition obliges to be turned over on an oral tradition étroitcment related to the succession
of the specific events which have occurred in the family, or the clan since a limited number of generations and this
with a quite relative concern of the chronological precision. It will be thus difficult to work out, starting from the
testimonys badly fixed in time, a synthesis of the history of the whole people. This completely overflowing problem
the field of our competences, we will be satisfied to simply release some outstanding facts by taking again the
results at which certain authors arrived, primarily L Perrois ';, E Andersson?' and Mr. Alihanga "to which we return,
for more details: the opinions agree to affirm that Kota occupy to them posi tion present only since relatively little
time. For the last stages of their migration and by sometimes different ways, the oral tradition the fact of coming
from areas which one can locate towards the Average Blood ha i.e. at 500 km towards the North-East. The
migration towards the current positions could have proceeded towards the XVII' century or even quite front.
Because of the pressure of other quarrelsome ethnos groups (Bakwélé. Ossyéba. etc), their course had to be
rather disordered. Towards the XVIII' century, Obamba. for what concerns, seemed durably established in the area
of Abolo, not far from Kcllc in territory congolais. But a violent one conflict with their neighbors, follow-up of internal
dissensions, made them take again the stick of pilgrim. Whereas a part of them moved a little more to the south
towards the country téké. of others left in direction the west Thus with the XVIII' century, the center of the country
kota was established on high Dilo. the zone of Kclc Ngouadi and the curious one?' plate of Ngourou. With the XIX'
century, the various clans kota will occupy their current positions: Mahongwé will go up slightly towards north
whereas the other groups, like Obamba, continue their progression and kur éparpillcment towards K southern until
approaching the Niari river in Congo Brazza. The final positions will start to be fixed from 1910 according to the
constraints of the French colonial administration. We cannot enter in detail of the history of the migration of all
these people, history reconstituted with difficulty starting from the bits of information of the tradition orak. But it is
interesting to note, sometimes, how much ks accounts resulting from various sources can be recut. Here is an
example: at the time of a conversation on the routes which was to follow ks populations migrating and the
interpenetrations which had been able to occur between certain clans Obamba and Tékè-Tsaye. Raoul Lehuard
reported to us, of his advisors of Zanaga. that when the notable ones of these groups meet, ks Téké-Tsayc speaks
while starting with: "You who came on our premises by the way from the elephants". specifying on the one hand that
Téké-Tsaye occupied already the area when ks Obamba arrived there and on the other hand, indicating certain
passable ways that the men follow in bush when they exist ". It is interesting to bring closer cene phrases
description made by Martin Alihanga of the migration of the clan Obamba Ngwadi starting from the area of
Francevillc: it is by continuing a wounded elephant that they discovered a country or it seemed to them that it made
good food and that they baptized "Dzanga-Tibi" which was to give, by phonetic evolution "Zanaga". Alihanga
specifies these displacements of populations se/ont by * the way of étéphants * that which followed the first migrants
in High-Passed i.e. there or the crossing of this river does not pose a problem of navigation, because Mbede of
then are unaware of the technique of navigation.
With regard to the areas of origin of what one can call the "proto-Kota" and if one wants to go up further in time,
information becomes more and more with difficulty vérifiabks: while always basing itself on the tradition orak, Martin
Alihanga reports that Obamba would come from the area from élé, tributary of the higher course of the Oubangui.
river in K northern of Zaire. They would have initially migrated towards the west until Kribi worms to Cameroun It is
there brings back the tradition, that their ancestors would have seen the sea for the first time. They would have
then returned in the area of current Yaounde then in cdk of Yokoduma (or Yokadouma) by taking again their
displacement towards the east-south-east. While wondering about ks ethnos groups which one can attach to the
kota group, Anckrsson. as for him, quotes possible relations with Duala of the south Cameroun.
It égakment points out that people (téké or kota?) the EC what one called avaknt "Anzicana" tattooings completely
similar to those of Yoruba (Nigeria) Cl with those of populations of the area of the lake LéopoJd: The presence, in
these groups, of the same reasons for tattooing as those carried by old Anzicana enables us to suppose that all
these tribes belonged at the origin with the same old civilization yes, parjortes vague broke towards the south and
was spread in range in the center of Africa ". It explains thus the origin of the migrations kota and fang by the
by-effect of displacements of Bandas of Centrafriquc following the raids of the hunters of slaves come from north
(Arab, Fulbe. Nubiens).
As it is seen, the puzzle is not easy to reconstitute and one should not neglect any index: the oral tradition, ks
known elements of the history of the other people, the linguistic resemblances, the decorative traditions (hairstyle,
scarifications, tattooings) and various. Andersson, among many questions, wondered whether other traditions of
Kota could not provide indications on their origin. It was thus interested in the significant male secret society of
Mungala whose origins are in relation to a spirit of the waters. Curiously, it does not find a river of this name on the
possible routes of the migration kota whereas the charts mention a Mungala. river well flow right of Congo between
this river and Oubangui (it far from is not élé besides). Quoting Even. Andersson specifies that Kota of north
represented mungala like "a fantastic animal living of water". This definition deserves that one makes the bringing
together with another fantastic animal known of the crytozoologists and baptized good according to the places and
times' "jago-Nini", "Amali". "yamala" or "Mokele-Mbembc". This last animal, resembling appears it with a dinosaur,
defrayed the chronicle, some time ago and its existence is especially supported by the accounts of the local
populations, bantoues or pygmces. Its zone of the most frequent appearance was centered towards the lake Télé,
all in the north of Congo Bra/za. between Sangha and Oubangui. It is a very difficult area of drill flooded of access,
one of most wild of the planet which probably saw Kota a few centuries ago. However, in the Seventies and Eighties
some more or less scientific forwardings did not succeed in confirming the existence of it.
Although certain new testimonys are particularly disconcerting, all that could have remained about it at the stage of
local legends to the dubious bases if this curious similarity with the myths revolving around Mungala had not
encouraged us to push some investigations on the subject. Thus we found in the accounts of Trader Horn?'.
adventurer of the end of the XIX', an evocation of these mysterious animals which, with the statements of the
natives, haunted the borders of Gabon, Congo and the south Cameroun. Itself would have seen the impressive
traces of them. To conclude, it specified that it had seen representations of these animals drawn in the caves of
Bushmcn. We then stripped a great quantity of works on African rupestral art to try to collect a confirmation with the
statements of Trader Horn. The first observation was that, generally, this parietal art although always stylized was
very figurative and generally represented nonimaginary alive beings. We finally found a significant publication of
Léo Frobenius where this author reported prehistoric statements of drawings of caves of old Rhodesia ". We
noticed there, with étonnemcnt, five figurations of odd animals, without resemblance to species usually represented
and presenting analogies with certain prehistoric forms. Frobenius itself is questioned and qualified them "animal
fabulous, strange creations". by using name sauricn for some.
Thus has there a disconcerting enigma there: one can exclude only in this environment stable and far away from
the civilized world, some representatives of large the sauriens could remain, their surface of existence formerly
largely extended, narrowing gradually with the wire of the centuries. If this assumption, surprising with the first
access but partially accredited by the testimony of Prehistoric, were confirmed one would have then to make with a
major scientific discovery which would make it possible to explain, in addition, the origins of certain African secret
societies, that of Mungala stalemate example to finish on possible remanences of animal species in the course of
disappearance on the territories which occupied Kota. we will draw the attention to certain representations of
strange, semi-anthropiqucs. aspect semi-sauricnnes allotted to ethnos groups of Hautc-Sangha ' or in Zande of
areas close to Zaire. One of them is currently exposed to the Museum of the Louvre. Myths or reality, these
references to now disappeared animals or in the process of disappearance, confirm the possible stages of the
The ethnologists and the historians who studied these areas do not fail to stress these great shifts in population
which have affected the majority of the ethniques groups of Africa. As their neighbors fang. Kota came besides.
One cannot dispute it but it should be stressed that we laboriously recall this history only by incomplete testimonys
of the oral tradition. Did they occupy an empty country or they drove out the former occupants of them? We cannot
miss astonishing us on the lack by response to this problem. One often tends to disregard the latter like if, before,
the destinations of these migrations were always deserted. It would be heavily to be mistaken: the archaeological
discoveries, which do not cease multiplying since at least a score of years, show that all these areas were inhabited,
often during millenia, by companies apparently as technologically advanced as those of Europe. Which ecological
causes or sociologiqucs major could contribute to their recent technological stagnation? In more of the devastations
caused by the human draft at the time of the previous centuries, it is probable that the climatic variations of the last
millenia, inevitably inducing upheavals in the environment of these populations, also can, in good part, to explain
that. The forest that we know in Gabon did not always exist in its exubérance. Many climatic oscillations were noted
on the end of the Quaternary one. Without entering in detail, one can affirm that a wet phase made it possible the
drill to reach the maximum of its development between 12 000 and 3000 LP in central Africa. The observations have
made then state of an evolution towards a climate slightly drier before showing a return has a wet tendency for a
few centuries. As we could personally check it in the East of Gabon, this one is concretized by clear advanced
forest on savannas in various points of the zone équatorialc. Sometimes zone of refuge, the dense forest remains
despite everything a painful medium it human being. Moisture and heat tire the organizations quickly and are
favourable with the development of serious endemic diseases. Considerable vegetable species are in addition of
poor food value for the herbivorous mammals. That explains why the game is very dispersed and, generally, that
food is difficult to get. By its massive screen, the forest is a brake with the communications and the exchanges
between people. One can thus reasonably think that the old companies of central Africa could know their best
bloomings during the phases with arid tendency corresponding in this zone to their most favorable environment.
The wettest phases, supporting the increase in forest had, on the contrary, to be accompanied by a stagnation in
the development of the human societies. Our knowledge over the old times appreciably evolved/moved besides
lately and makes it possible to brush a synoptic table of the beginnings of the human occupation of these areas:
one advances the 400000 year old figure for the beginnings of Paleolithic Gabonese; Pebble-culture would even
have been found on the high terraces of Ogooué. After a short Neolithic period between 4000 and 2500 B.P., the
prehistoric studies recent highlighted a massive arrival "metallurgists" bantu coming from north towards 2400-2300
B.P. by routes besides not very different from those which the people fang will borrow and luxated, twenty centuries
later. Since, that became these prehistoric companies in the zone which interests us? They gum evolved/moved?
Did there remain on the spot, there were comparable by populations come besides, have there in their turn
migrated in other places? Which reports/ratios do they have with Kota contemporaries which one knows also good
metallurgists and come from north but well subsequently? Which place to make in Pygmces, par excellence
populates drill, which one often regards as the initial occupants die Africa équatorialc?
We will reconsider these problems further, but it should be recognized that one does not have a final answer to all
these questions and we realize with even more acuity of the limits of our knowledge of passed of these areas. The
development of archaeological excavations could perhaps make it possible to improve this knowledge and to fill the
enormous lack of data installed between the old times (amounting to millenia) and most recent (amounting to
centuries) concerning in particular the framework of our reflexion on art kota. Because. in a a little contradictory
way, it is for the old times that we will find the most vestiges because of the very good conservation of the tools
lithiquc. It is obviously not the case for the periods more brought closer us where it is really difficult to find all that
was manufactured out of metal or wood.
However, any hope is not lost yet: the rapids research which we personally carried out to the beginning of the
Eighties on the site of old villages show that one can still make interesting observations which could gradually make
it possible to increase the knowledge of last of a given area. This vague knowledge of the old history is a heavy
handicap to include/understand the appearance, the evolution and the significance of the funerary art of Kota.
4 Kota - General information on the reliquaires Kota
We enter finally the sharp one of the subject of this study: figures of reliquaire of Kota. With the instar their
neighbors fang. Kota practised a worship which was characterized by the conservation of relics of the ancestors.
We enter finally the sharp one of the subject of this study: figures of reliquaire of Kota. With the instar their
neighbors fang. Kota practised a worship which was characterized by the conservation of relics of the ancestors of
the significant lines in surmounted baskets of quite specific sculptures to some extent playing the role of guards of
the relics. In the exclusive presence of initiates, the great decisions of the clan, chalk-lining, were made during
ceremonies where the reliquaires had left. According to places', one called them bwett, mbulu-ngulu or mboy (at
Obamba). By this ritual, the ancestors always took part in the existence of the alive ones. Concerning the study of
the rites related to these reliquaires, we return, inter alia, with work of Andersson. of Pcrrois de Stephen Chauvet.
During first half of the XX' century, the more or less simultaneous action of the French administration and Christian
missionaires contributed to the eradication of this worship. Correlatively with a forced evolution of the African
company at that time, this last lost indeed its importance so much so that one currently regards it as disappeared.
However, dice acquired political independence, the suspension of external pressures could let remain of discrete
hearths of the worship in certain villages of bush. In spite of the upheavals of the colonial impact, in spite of the
development of others practise (for example ndjobi in the Gabonese province of Haut-Ogooué). the tradition is thus
not completely extinct and we know still certain places where it seems to remain: the traditional reliquaires are
always used there on certain occasions by officiants who hide them carefully.
At Kota. these figures reached a degree of stylization and abstraction astonishing. Moreover, they present a
characteristic which one does not find that in a way much less open in the remainder of art of Black Africa: copper
and brass, in the form of platings, use systematically and largely the composition of all these objects. That
contributed so that they are sought by the art lovers African. By putting a little aside the mbumba-bwiti masango
which are distinguished very clearly from the others by the reduction of the size of the face and the relative
lengthening of the neck the figures of reliquaire kota are characterized by a face extremely often stylizes treated
flat. The treatment in relief of the figures (in round bump or semi-round bump) appears only in some sub-groups
stylistics representing only approximately a third of the total of these objects of later worship and pretence. The face
is always prolonged downwards by a kind of being decorated handle of a structure in the form of rhombus directed
in the same plan as the face for the unit of the figures; only at Mahongwé, this structure rather has the form of an
oval falling under the plan perpendicular to that of the face. This handle was normally fixed with the relics. We will
return in the continuation of this text at greater length on the description of the various categories of figures of
There is possible to evaluate the quantity of these figures being still all over the world 7 Bus it should well be
admitted that taking into account their success as objects of collection, the majority of them are not any more in
their countries of origin. It is difficult to answer this question but one can try to draw up an approximate evaluation.
For our part, we could after a compilation being spread out over four years, to find the representations of almost a
thousand to specimens. The Dapper Museum has of a significant documentation on these figures. A. and F Chaffin.
on their side, listed of it more than one thousand. In addition and according to the figures announced higher, we
raise 500 villages kota in Gabon. While extrapolating compared to the surfaces, one can admit that it is necessary
to count on something like 750 villages kota and related on the Gabon-Congo unit.
Perrois made an evaluation starting from the reliquaires mahongwc of which it could find the trace in three villages
Gabonese. The number of listed figures varies from 1 to 14 sdon the importance of the village and of the clans
represent (a score). On the whole, it could have mention of 27 reliquaires for the three villages is 9 on average for
each village. According to these figures and total number of the clans, it estimated that the number of reliquaires
mahongwé was to rise between two and three hundreds at the end of last century. It thinks that in 1969 one had all
over the world to find about fifty parts on the whole. Ten years later, it speaks about a hundred. At present, this
figure should be still revised with the rise since our personal file reaches the hundred parts and that we are very far
from being cxhaustif. One then realizes that the indications in our possession are too fragmentary so that one can
risk oneself with a reliable extrapolation especially for the whole of the ethnos groups kota: the difficulty residing in
the evaluation of the average number of reliquaires per village. If one admits a fork from 3 to 9. one would arrive at
a theoretical total ranging between 2000 and 7000 figures "in service" at the end of last century. The fork is broad.
How much remains about it it taking into account the many destruction covering the period 1920-60. and also
among more recent manufacture, it is impossible to say. A former merchant of art, with which we discussed the
problem, estimates as for him that there must still be some about fifteen thousand. This figure appears a little high,
at least if one refers to the parts of indubitable authenticity. One observes, indeed, as of the first decades of the XX'
century, the progressive appearance in the collections (even in those of large museums) of parts of bâclée
appearance, whose characteristics stylistics are degraded. One can have to make obviously with productions of
less skilful sculptors, or less and less well forms, but it is undeniable, considering their growing proportion, which
one is more and more in the presence of objects who are not manufactured any more in the spirit of the worship.
Time passing, one will find nothing any more but objects declining, even coarse and even grotesque, only cut with a
one aim mercantile. It is obvious that we do not want to enter such objects. Pcrrois pointed out that the number of
reliquaires remained modest vis-a-vis the multitude of the African objects indexed in the whole world. That is
included/understood rather well because of the same characteristics of the worship concerning only the dignitaries
and because of the difficulty of supplying itself out of copper: the really damaged figures of reliquaire were carefully
to be dismounted to recover invaluable metal. One could not thus attend an accumulation of "desacralized" old
objects. This assumption is corroborated by Andcrsson which described several mbulu-ngulu with the metal of old
appearance but whose framework out of wooden seemed very recent; the examination of a certain number of
figures of reliquaire also enabled us to accept this assumption well that under certain conditions, old wood can
preserve its new appearance.
5 Kota - stylistic and typlogic Study
The study that we undertook relates exclusively to the visual aspect of the figures of reliquaire.
CHARACTERISTIC ELEMENTS TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT
Let us specify once more that we put aside the figures mahongwé reliquaire and masango which forms each very
homogeneous group, without significant variations. They are described further. Our reflexions thus relate primarily
to the figures of Kota of the south, i.e. those of Obamba. of Mindassa, Bawumbou and Mindoumou. These
reliquaires sets up groups 3 and 4 of detailed typology will infra. In their study on the art of Kota (cf biWiogr.). A.
and F ChafFin studied the different lenient ones constituting these figures. We review them below while testing, in
the light of their results and of our personal feeling, to retain those which appear to us to be of an interest to
compare the forms.
A typical figure is made up of a face, generally oval, on which eyes, a nose are schematized and sometimes, but
more rarely, a mouth. This face is framed laterally on the level of the ears by more or less broad excroissances
that one can interpret like a figuration of the cap. Under each side part of the cap, one always observes the
hanging comparable ones to kinds of couettes. Curiously, this side cap almost never overflows on the top of the
face. Could one as see there the stylization of broad ears showing by there as deaths are with the listening of the
alive ones? It is an explanation which is worth a autreI of it the cranium as for him is overcome by a kind of chjpen
in the form of moon section that one names crescent II is more or less enveloping according to the models. Often,
the curve of the higher part of the crescent is harmonized with the side parts of the cap.
The face is supported downwards by a court handle which continues with a structure of form geometrical in hollow
rhombus and which could be used as handle. This last is located in the same plan as the mahongwé face contrary
to the parts where the structure equivalent (but more ovalized) is cut perpendicular to the plan of the face. The
unit constitutes an object holding in a symmetrical plan and perfectly balanced. The figure, let us recall it, is
covered with copper on the totality of its recto part, except the lower portion of the rhombus. On bwété mahongwé,
the back is also plated of copper.
We review below quickly the various components of the figures of reliquary:
Cap (or parts side?) -. it can take varied enough forms. According to the models, it can be hardly outlined or on
the contrary, to more or less largely develop. It forms a round-off to join K high of the face. In this case it can be
connected gradually while swelling to the bottom of the face (group 3) or mark a clear rupture and show a
circumference absolutely right to the bottom (group 4). The external edges, in general rounded well, can have
sinuosities, in particular if the bottom of the cap is attached to the hanging ones in the shape "of love-lock".
The cap is one of the elements which will enable us to differentiate certain groups between them.
Hanging (or pendeloques, pendentive, ankles or wicks according to authors'): These very particular outgrowths
absent on bwété the mahongwé. are registered with the bottom of the cap of all the other figures of reliquary.
There is always one of them very seldom two, on each side. These hanging, indissociable ornaments prolonging
the side cap, are most probably the stylization of the ends of old male or female hairstyles, feather beds or braids
of which we find, still at the present time, of the similar forms. It is very Net for the figures shamaye where, which
one can assimilate to the hanging ones, is the termination lower and frayed cap. From group 3 (see further), the
hanging ones are different in three principal types of forms which we indicated by the letters A, B and C allowing
us to distinguish certain sub-groups from our classification:
- Cylindrical or, sometimes, more or less tronconiqucs (A). They can be covered by a uniform copper plating or by
a copper wire flattened and laid out in spiral. Sometimes, the hanging ones are covered with casings of cartridge.
- Triangular (B) and flattened in the plan of the side parts.
- Rebiqucs laterally in the shape "of love-lock" (C) or in "duck tail" according to the name of A. and F ChafTin.
They present several alternatives. For the majority of them one will not be able truly any more to speak about
outgrowths so much they are integrated harmoniously in the lower part of the cap of which they are the
prolongation. We estimate however that one can regard them as the equivalent of hanging "traditional" of the two
types preceding bus we find many forms of transition between the hanging ones from type B and those of "hangs-
cceur". That confirms, if it of it were necessary, that they are the stylized representation of certain parts of the
hairstyle. Board 2 above represents the principal observable forms of hanging. The observation of many figures
shows that they are the hanging cylindrical ones (A) type which is most frequent. We will further see than in what
we define as being group 3, them hanging of types B and C, practically absent on the figures treated flat (A)
mode, appear in a way much more open with the reliquaries treated in relief (modes B and C).
Growing (or cimier, transverse plate according to authors'): it is well developed and of very constant pace in group
4 with a lower edge often rcctiligne or slightly curved. It can be completely non-existent in certain sub-groups, be
presented in the form of ailerons, to be tiny room with a simple chignon or on the contrary, to become increasingly
important and enveloping until being connected very harmoniously to the cap. This more or less enveloping
character of the crescent will be the base of our classification with group 3.
Rhombus: groups 1 and 2 of our classification are distinguished on this level by a structure where the geometry of
the rhombus is not marked yet perfectly. The form is rather ovoid or stretched vertically for certain reliquaries
shamaye and the section of wood is often softened or round.
As for the other groups (especially 3 and 4) and contrary with the opinion of Alain and Francoise Chaffin, we could
not find in the subtle variations of forms of the rhombus the arguments for a coherent and significant classification.
These variations are especially sensitive to the level of the lengthening of the rhombus and the more or less
curved character of its external edges. On certain models the edges of the rhombus are rectilinear and give a
geometrical pace, very stiff with this one. On others, on the contrary, the faces are slightly curved towards the
center, thus accentuating the point of the side angles and giving an original key and much of flexibility to the unit.
Eyes: we will distinguish two principal categories plus third drifting from the two first.
Rounds •. the eyes of this model are frequent, whether they flat, are reduced to a simple pastille or in relief. Often,
they almost hemispherical, in the cabochon shape and are stuck to the remainder of the face by a kind of resin. A
point or a screw appearing, in a rather realistic way, a pupil, reinforces the assembly. Bwété of, Masango present
eyes often materialized by buttons.
In slit -. in this case the pace of the eye can take the aspect of an almond or of a half-moon. The forms can be soft
or geometrical. Contours are underlined by a edge in relief surrounding a hollow or one can see or not a
protuberance (in general a nail) appearing the pupil.
Others •. in this last category, we arrange intermediate forms between the two preceding ones, in general of ovoid
These various models of eyes do not distribute in a completely random way among the stylistics groups which we
will describe further: the eyes are always round che7 Mahongwé (group 1). generally round in groups 2 and 5.
They diversify frankly in groups 3 and 4 and this more especially as the abstraction of the forms decreases, that
the realism of the face increases.
Nose: the shape of the nose is in close connection with the various groups or sub-groups.
Group 1 (bwété mahongwé). contrary to the following groups where the nose constitutes a volume, this one is
simply announces by a short sheet metal perpendicular to the plan of the face. There one reaches the most
advanced stage of schematization.
Group 2 -. this group associates two categories of figures of reliquary the quite different characteristics of nose:
the sub-group 02a shows the nose in long blade vertically dividing the face which one finds on considerable
figures shamaye. The sub-group 02b. for its part, shows a small rather realistic nose although stylized.
Group 3 -. the nose forms here a volume in the shape of dihedron where the nasal edge is more or less acute. It
is schematized and the edges of the dihedron are more the sharp for the sub-group 3A. It loses this character and
will present a rounder or more massive form when the figure is treated in a more realistic way, as it is the case for
the sub-groups 3B and 3C.
We will make a particular mention for the style shamaye characterizes by a face in the almond shape. Here, the
nose is treated in a completely particular and characteristic way with this ethnos group: it is very thin and the edge
is prolonged until in top of the face, forming clear and mean vertical separation between the eyes. This
schematized nose, can, for certain models, to separate totality from the face.
Group 4 •. the preceding remarks are true for group 4. The nose in the form of an acute dihedron characterizes
the sub-groups 4A and 4B. The "realistic" objects of the sub-group 4C show, on the contrary, a nose well imitated,
Group 5 -. in this group where the face is small, the nose is represented by a small rather realistic pad.
Stop: one of the characteristics of art kota. for its the most stylized forms, is not to show the mouth. This one is
really treated carefully only for the realistic forms of the sub-groups 3C and 4C carved in round bump. If not, it
appears sometimes more or less engraved clearly in light relief.
Figurations with the back of the reliquary
they are Figures of primarily geometrical form carved in round bump with the back of the figure. Very often, these
sculptures have the form of a rhombus stretched according to the vertical axis of the reliquary. The rhombus can
take a more or less spindle-shaped form. These figurations, although practically always present at the back of the
figures, do not seem, to be described up to now in detail. Are they only ethniques marks or clans or they have a
more precise significance? There would be there a subject to deepen. Unfortunately in the works, these dorsal
figurations accompany only very seldom the illustrations. Only to date, the catalogue the way of the ancestors
published in 1986 by the Dapper Museum systematically presented the back of all the exposed parts. Ten percent
only of the whole of iconographic documentation that we gathered give an image of the dorsal parts. It is little but
that however allowed us to draw up a first panorama of these a little forsaken sculptures until now and we tried to
represent on board 3 the main part of the forms observed. Some, like those baptized "various forms", of a little
complicated reason, or those of pace anthropomorphe, were observed only in single specimen. All the others go, in
fact, to summarize itself with a drifting rather simple diagram of spindle-shaped lines or losangiqucs according to
whether these figures are carved in soft reliefs or more geometrically. The carved structure will be able to widen
(until giving the appearance of a square) or to lengthen more or less in the longitudinal axis of the object, covering
only one part of the révère face or including the crescent completely. One will find then alternatives showing a
figure sometimes full, sometimes surcreusée with reasons in hollow. A median vein, lengthened in the vertical
direction, can be sometimes noticed. In certain cases there is only this vein Although it is difficult to be precise,
because of the low number of observations, it seems to release a certain evolution from the figures of back of
which it will be spoken further in the description of the stylistics groups. At least is -clk rather clear when one
compares groups 1, 2 and 3. One finds then many similar figures between groups 3 and 4. We will note only that
the longitudinal veins which are superimposed on the rhombus seem to disappear in group 4. The figurations with
character anthropomorphe which we reproduced find as well in group 3 in the 4; they remain exceptional. They
precede the reliquaries in (anus7 II is not obvious to answer this bus question contrary to the latter, they cover only
one limited part of the wooden support and are copper pratiqucmcnt never plated. In the same way, it will be
difficult to give explanations on the significance of these figurations: marks of clan, relationship to the quality of
late, symbol of fruitfulness? We will return there a little further and we will be satisfied to notice that, there too, the
form losangiquc is a major element of the sculpture kota.
Elements of decoration
II the stress on the presence of the copper is once again laid which, to be an essential component of the figure
of reliquary, does not remain about it less one element of decoration to character probably symbolic system.
Generally, plating covers totality with the recto of the figure; only the lower part (pre-hcnsiblc?) leave visible
wood. The back never carries safe metal for the parts mahongwé and obviously, for the models of the Janus
type. Metal is laid out on wood of the side parts and the crescent in the form of a plating which avoids to the
maximum the connections. Concerning the part "face" and especially that of the treated figures in a
diagrammatic way, flat (primarily the 1A groups. 3A and 4A of classification), the following observations are
- Initially, the face often presents a broad formed cross of two bands of broad copper or brass of a few
centimetres. Which is the origin? It on the other hand absent on the figures shamaye and is mahongwé where
only a vertical metal band divides the face into two. What means this omnipresent cross? Must one see there,
as Eugcnia Herbert suggests it, a relationship to the "Kongo paradigm of the universe" M7 II is certain that with
the arrival of the Portuguese in cene area southernmost and conversion of king de Kongo to Catholicism, the
reason for the cross was essential on the majority of the figurations symbolic systems ' ' '• ; a proof has been
given with the many crucifixes out of wooden or run out of copper or brass (Kangi kiditu) carried out for this
time. The work of detail fde the latter ] presents one striking analogy with that of the objects out of copper or
ivory found at Benign (Nigeria) and which are usually dated from XVf century ". That does not make it possible
to conclude from it an unspecified direct relation between Kota and Kongo but one will not be able to prevent
themselves from seeing there, there too, the description of exchanges of stylistics influences at long distances.
- Then, the space of the free face left by these metal bands is covered either by a uniform plating with copper
or, generally, by an assembly of plates of adjusted broad copper or brass of a few millimetres and oneself-
fMMement. This assembly can be very simple. you teMUes all being horizontally directed. In d*Mre * case the
assembly is much more sophistical itvébm an erudite composition of horizontal plates, oblique and vertical. On
certain models, this C lamdlage "(we will use this term to indicate have-M*Magc it fine metal bands on the face
of the sculp-mm) is simply illustrated by embossing on the plate of nétal (imitation of plates). There would be
tendency to COMédérer this more recent type of manufacture as although this fact is not formally established.
We in spite of are very obliged to note that this "pseudo-lamellagc" is observed primarily on the objects of
Rota of the south i.e. as we will further specify it, on those of the end of the stylistic evolution. One never sees
it, for example, on bwété mahongwé. One can wonder about the origin of cene practice characteristic of Kota
to organize metal plating their figures of reliquary in the form of a lamellage. The undeniable artistic effect
obtained by this process would not be it makes of it the consequence of the constraints of the provisioning of
this metal: coppers in the form of wire and difficulty of getting sufficient plates? It will be noticed that the use of
flattened wire or of fine cut out plates allows a much better use of the quantity of metal available But it is
necessary to also know that the copper wire was already very widespread in central Africa as of the XIV' and
XV' centuries when it had especially a decorative use, for example in the ornamentation of the weapons
According to Andersson. Kota were also able to manufacture wire with brass which they dissolved. It is thus
probable that the technique of the lamellage adopted by Kota for the ornamentation of their figures of
reliquary is a heritage of cene old tradition. It is very Net for the figures of the groups 1 and 2 of the
classification developed further and which are practically always decorated flattened wire of copper. They are
If one examines closely K decoration plate, we will be able to recognize several techniques:
a. Lamellage carried out starting from copper wire thoroughly flattened like that was systematically the case at
Mahongwé and for much of reliquaries of group 3. The wire used was certainly of indigenous origin in the
beginning and could be replaced gradually by copper or brass of importation.
B Lamellage carried out by cutting of copper plates, probably as well as possible to use all the falls of this
metal. It is possible that this technique was used at the times, or in the zones, where the supply copper was
restricted. With the precedents, the reliquaries of this type could be among oldest.
C Forgery lamellage realized by slotting on copper plates. This technique, imitating truth lamellage, is
especially used on the figures of reliquary of group 4, of an average size more important than that of the other
groups. With the use of this technique for objects of this importance, it seems that the supply copper was not
one concern any more. This technique could thus have developed starting from the XIX' century and at the
end of the stylistic evolution. That agrees adze?. well with the assumptions that we further develop and who
make us think that K styk 4 would mark, to some extent, the apogee of the stylistic evolution of works kota.
To finish some with the problems of the metal ornamentation, we especially borrowed the term "coppers" but
we already announced that K brass is usually used (probably more often, moreover that red copper) on K
even object, the artist marrying with skill the tone reds and yellows of each metal. Certain figures of reliquary
let appear the parsimonious presence of iron K more often included in the alternation of the lamellage. But this
metal, commun run at Kota, and consequently certainly less prestigious for decoration and also very oxydabk,
remains little employed. A specimen of the Museum of the Man, relatively old since collected in 1884, shows
even its plated side parts of aluminium. On another, one observes some zinc plates. For one as for the other,
the effect is not of happier ailkurs not and these specimens remain extremely rare.
Then, K plating out of copper or brass of the figures of reliquary is always decorated with more or less sought
reasons, carried out by hammering, punching or embossing of metal. Decoration, is in general organized
symmetrically compared to the vertical axis of the sculpture. Cdk of certain models can be even very charged;
made reasons combining of lenient linear, dotted lines or in festoon, clk is often harmonious and contributes to
make certain specimens of véritabks masterpieces. Decoration frequently appears on the edges of the cap
and the crescent, on the neck (handle), on the higher part of the rhombus. In a less constant way, one sees it
on the axis of the crescent and in filling in this last or the wings of the cap. It will be noted however that
decoration misses practically parts not lamclkes face on the figures treated in modes A and B. This plating
forming the vertical separating band of bwété mahongwé or the "cross" of the figures of groups 3 and 4
generally smooth and is not decorated except when the artist wanted to represent the mouth.
This stage of work, we will not extend more on the description and the significance of decoration. Many
questions are however posed: is -die simply duke with the free appreciation of the artists? Can one precisely
find there the signature of some of them? Can one bring closer certain reasons with marks clans? It would be
interesting to answer these questions but our information is too embryonic. * the some (doubtful) information
accompanying the figures by reliquary which we put in cards is too not very reliable to draw some conclusion
from it that it is. Long investigations into the ground would be necessary, if however clks is still possible.
Abstraction and significance of the forms of the figures of rdiquairc: Even for those which are treated with the
greatest abstraction (mode A. flat), the higher part of these figures immediately evokes a human face. The
existence of the eyes and the nose is there to confirm it. * the left side ones suggest well ks elements of a cap
whose crescent could also be one of the stylized components. With less than as K propose certain authors,
one cannot see there by this figuration a lunar significance of worship or of the horns of animals. For our part,
we think more logical of seeing in this crescent an element of the hairstyle.
One can wonder on the other hand a little at greater length about the way of interpreting the handle and the
rhombus. Are these elements there only to facilitate the gripping of the object or to better allow its fixing in the
basket relics? One does not need much effort of imagination to recognize there, there too, other very stylized
parts of the human body. Moreover, the figure of reliquary as a whole would not be-elk a very stylized human
body whose head would be hypertrophied 7 That could fall under the stylistic abstraction kota. Several
interpretations are possible: some see in the rhombus of the shoulders and the arms. For J.-C. Andrault, the
rhombus would be equivalent to two arms joined together by the hands in a receptive gesture.
It should be said that the perception of this symbolic system was very strongly confirmed to him for the
example of figures where the rhombus represents in a realistic way a chest to which two arms (photo cf above)
are attached. For our part, we do not think only starting from this example it is necessary to generalize: these
objects are most probably of rather late invoice and could materialize the personal vision of the sculptor. It
would be different if one could show the existence of such figures on old parts, beginning of the stylistic
Other interpretations make rhombus of the miniature legs; why not. Objects of craft industry out of bronze
made in West Africa and imitating étrangement the figures of reliquary kota, support this assumption: one
simulated outlines of arm on the level of a slightly reinflated handle and overcoming a rhombus which
undoubtedly points out arched legs. This interpretation is worth what it is worth; although these craftsmen
probably never had contacts with Kota. it may find it beneficial to be, for once, translation of a African object
by others Africans. One can also bring closer certain forms figures (of the 3b. group rather rare, to say true)
showing what should be the equivalent of hanging, aligned with Ho-rixontale and suggesting arms drawn aside
in cross. The resemblance, in this case with the provision of the arms and the total pace of the headstocks
ashanii of Ghana is enough striking although one cannot simply confirm such an assumption starting from
To return from there to the rhombus, in a more prosaic way, it should be noticed that at Mahongwé which
seems to be with the sources of the stylistic evolution kota (will infra "]. what one assimilates to the rhombus is
well a genuine ovoid handle, even if it is harmonized perfectly with K remains bwété. It is only in the other later
stylistics groups that the plan of this handle "swivels" of the sagittal plan to that of the face and that it gradually
takes the form of a very geometrical rhombus. If it is not doubtful that the sculptors kota had with the spirit the
idea to stylize in an abstract way certain left the human body, that they are the arms or the legs, this research,
perhaps instinctive, ended to a geometrical form highly symbolic system and in perfect balance with the
remainder of the figure. It thus contributes to confer a kind of mystical force to him. Besides these more or less
stretched or spindle-shaped forms losangiqucs. take a great importance at Kota. We recall the almond shape
of the face of the figures of reliquary shamaye as well as the reasons to the back of all the parts of groups 2. 3
and 4 (cf pi. 3). Is this in relation to a concern of the fruitfulness of the clan and perpetuation of the line by this
figure in which one could see a vulvar symbolization? The question can arise. Concerning the figurations of
back. |-C Andrault is, as for him, persuades that they symbolize a female sex, source of the life and being used
to reinforce the capacities of the late one. As in much of beliefs, this female sexual representation is that of a
door between the life and death and the image appear adapted to the mbulu-ngulu. intermediate essence
between the world of alive and that of the ancestors.
The expression of the face: The abstract examination of the face does not prevent it from releasing an
expression, sometimes intense. This one is often hieratic, print of a deep allied serenity to a strange fixity
agreeing to the atmosphere of gravity which was to chair the worship.
The expression of the face takes sometimes a more human form, in particular when the figure is treated in a
realistic way in mode 3 or when ks eyes is expressed in slit. The expression becomes frankly mocker or smiling
when the mouth is materialized and the eyes represented by slits to the strong convexity directed towards K
high. In this case one can wonder whether K sculptor had the direction of humour or if it controlled always well
the effect which it wanted to return?
6 Kota - Classification Groups 1 and Groups 2
The observation of several hundreds of figures of reliquaire enables us to propose a classification which does
not give obviously completely causes of them those of our predecessors but who differs appreciably on a
certain number of points.
We very particulièrementcherché to avoid the parcelling out in many arbitrary categories while insisting, on
the contrary, on the relations stylistics between the various categories of objects and while trying to release
the general harmony who seems to emanate from works kota as a whole. Thus we could gather in only one
group (3) of the classified figures in a scattered way in former typologies while arriving at better encircling
their analogies and their elements of variation. Afterwards of multiple attempts and hard comparisons, we
ended up retaining the following criteria of classification:
- the stylistics groups (or styles) characterized by common characters, in general related on the face, the
cap and the crescent. This concept of group such as we define it wants purely stylistic. It will be able to
possibly correspond to ethniques groups, but not obligatorily. The correlations must be made with prudence
because of the inaccuracy of considerable data on the reliquaries. Within these groups, we will be brought
to differentiate from the sub-groups according to the shape of certain elements whose evolution presents an
unusual repetition of a group or one mode at the other. It acts especially of the variation of form of the
crescent or, possibly, of that of the hanging ones. We will also see highlighting what one can describe as
"schools" where artists bring their personal "leg".
- the mode, let us say technical, of sculptagc figure of reliquary: It is an essential criterion in the way of
treating a figure. But, we estimate that it is not sufficient to justify the creation of a group or a stylistic
sub-group with whole share; it is simply a technique (probably in charge of significance) to treat a figure
within the framework of a stylistic group. It is one of the essential differences which dissociate classifications
of our predecessors who created categories distinct according to the relief from the parts. For our share, us
consider that appearance of relief is only one technique of expression which develops besides only at a
given moment of the stylistic evolution (in groups 3 and 4) and that the sculptor uses according to his
personal suitabilities but also, obviously, of the constraints of coding to which it is held.
We distinguish, grosso mode, three modes:
- Flat tint (A) mode: it corresponds to the figures of reliquary with face known as
- Sculpture in the round (mode C): the whole of the face is treated with realism and presents a relief more or
less accentuated. Style also called "convex" in opposition to "concave" mentioned above (18 % of the
These three modes are found to differing degree in the various groups of styles. The concave mode (in
with-dish) is always present in each group. The styles which call upon the sculpture in relief (modes B and
C) observe only for the groups 3, 4 and 5 which are, in addition, most diversified and, apparently, latest,
from the point of view of the stylistic evolution (will in/ra). For a given mode, within each group, we then
established subdivisions resting on the variation of an important criterion, namely the development of the
crescent, more incidentally the type of hanging. The selected classification creates obligatorily arbitrary
bulk-headings but it is necessary to keep in mind that practically, all the intermediaries exist of a form to
another. It in any case has the advantage of emphasizing well the astonishing relations between the various
existing forms, whatever their mode of treatment. Board 4 is sufficiently significant to occur from long
From a point of view practises, to facilitate the classification of the figures, the principal characteristics taken
into account are translated by a number of code of the following form:
NOR (i) - I N2 (I) - N3, or:
NOR * Number of group
(i) * Index of sub-group (optional)
N2 * Category within the group
(I) "Standard of during (optional)
N3 "Sequence number
- Reliquary of group 3 with completely enveloping crescent, treated in with-dish: 03-A5-OOS
- Reliquary of group 3 of the under-style "Otala": 03C-A4-011
- Reliquary of group 4 with face curvature: 04-B1 -027
- Reliquary of group 4 with hanging in love-lock, treated in relief: 04-ClC-006
DESCRIPTION OF THE GROUPS
We will try to further see if one can release a correspondence with a given ethnique origin. That appears for
example enough obvious for the group 1 which corresponds very exactly to the figures mahongwé. It is less
obvious for the other groups and all the more problems that reliable information on the origin of the objects
left Gabon or Congo is very rare. It is also noticed that the classification of the groups does not follow an
evolutionary progression inevitably: initially, to preserve a certain correspondence with classifications
preceding ours; then, because this evolution is not inevitably linear.
For each group Ci defined below, we indicate a figure corresponding to the percentage of parts of the group
considered compared to the total of the figures listed by our care. Obviously, this value is only indicative
representativeness of the types which we could see in the current collections and cannot constitute a
precise evaluation of the relative importance of the various groups. The sample appears however
sufficiently significant to make it possible to distinguish the main tendencies.
GROUP 1 - STYLE "MAHONCWÉ" (13 %)
It is probably the group easiest to circumscribe by the originality and the
homogeneity of its characters and it is that which is superimposed best
at a precise ethnique origin, that of Mahongwé
In a nearly general way, the metal of the back presents two or three
veins arranged according to the longitudinal axis of the figure; more
rarely, one observes one or four of them. This stylized head is
surmounted by a protuberance inclined backwards where one can see
a chignon. Under the face, and a little in withdrawal compared to the
face, a handle leaves a length equivalent to that of the face. At the end
of ten centimetres, this handle widens to form a kind of closed handle of
ovoid form whose plan is perpendicular to that of the face. This
provision, particular to bwété mahongwé, that one can regard as the
equal one of a rhombus, distinguishes it in a clear way of all the figures
of reliquaire of the other groups where the rhombus is in the same plan
as the face. The height of the unit varies according to models' in a fork
going from approximately 30 to 70 cm. The higher part of the handle is
covered with copper wire whereas the top of the handle is entitled to a
plating of the same metal.
We return the reader being studied of L Perrois bwété of
Kota-Mahongwé of Gabon. note on lesjîgures Junéraires of the basin of
the ivindo, published into 1969"or in its article the kota-mahongwé art
published in 1976 in the Arts review of Black Africa. One raises an
excellent description of the variations there of form and aspect which
one can find among these objects of worship. We subscribe entirely to
the two sub-groups that it identified there:
- N sub-group gathers the sculptures of big size. They show few
variations the ones compared to the others and the lamcllage of the
face is treated horizontally. These bwété, according to Perrois. were to
have a dominating role in the ritual ceremonies.
- the others in general smaller and are varied from form and
proportions. The lamcllage takes more sophisticated forms: it can
present oblique or even circumvented parts. These bwété would have
especially had a function of accompaniment.
As we underlined, the mahongwé group is perfectly homogeneous: it is
distinguished from the others by the absence of cap, hanging and
crescent. In spite of these notable differences, the figures of group 1
show other characteristics which undoubtedly attach them to this great
family of the reliquaires known as luxated: the plating of fine copper
plates, the way of treating the face in concave mode, the existence of a
handle with a kind of rhombus, the powerful abstraction of this figuration
which reaches certainly its height at Mahongwé.
GROUP 2 - STYLE OF THE "SHAMAYE" (4 %)
We join together in this group of the figures of reliquary which show the following general characteristics:
- Absence of the crescent.
- very reduced side Cap with the bottom of which appear despite everything the hanging ones.
- Rhombus directed in the plan of the face but which generally, shows round and lengthened forms.
They seem to constitute a unit which can correspond to a precise ethnique origin. The majority of the descriptions
which we could collect with regard to them refer to Shamayc, groups ethnique localised approxi-mativcmcnt between
Mahongwé and Obamba of the area of Okondja. But we find also references to Mindoumou, located for their part
much more at the south. Who to believe? We note in spite of very that the references to Shamaye are most
Within this group 2. we will make two divisions:
Sub-group 2a •. of size in general enough large (from 45 to 65 cm height when they are intact), they seem to
represent intermediate characters between the figures mahongwé and those of the other groups. Even if the
rhombus falls under the same plan which the face, it still preserves the same soft and round forms of the mahongwé
style; no sharp angle there is observed. The ensemWc is surmounted by a kind of stalk cylindrical which it is still
difficult to assimilate to an outline of crescent. One of the essential characteristics is the almond shape of the face
and the nose in the shape of vertical edge which shares the higher part of the face into two. This type of nose is
characteristic of considerable figures shamayc.
We will classify, just afterwards in group 3. of the figures presenting of many common points with these last but who
see the development of the side cap like that of the crescent.
Sub-group 2b •. it joins together figures quite characteristic by small dimension of the face, the absence of crescent
and the particular form of the rhombus which often lengthens with soft forms in the vertical axis of the object. The
face, with a very regular oval, with reduced size, is decorated by plates with copper. The crescent misses there too.
The side cap exists, but reduced, and is limited to a sometimes thin crown surrounding the face, including K above
of cranium, which never occurs in the other groups. The cap is decorated towards bottom on each side, by the
hanging cylindrical ones or by a prolongation of the cap which could suggest them. On certain objects, this cap is
also represented with the arriére of the face by structures in relief. Certain figures offer a prominent face with an
assembly characteristic of copper plates. Inclination to bring relief to the face which makes it possible to classify
them in mode B.
As for dorsal decoration, the great figures sha-maye, like the object preserved at the Museum of Périgucux, still
present the double typical vein of the parts mahongwé. Those whose size is more reduced, are seen equipped with
the back with a carved form either spindle-shaped or losangiquc completely similar to those which one observes in
groups 3 and 4. This figure of back can be treated by soft forms or by geometrical forms. It is added very often a
median vein to it, in the vertical axis. As for other elements stylistics, group 2 is thus to make the transition between
the figures from Mahongwé and those of the other groups.
GROUP 3-STYLE A "CAPS SIDE ROUND" (38 %)
There we approach a group of a large stylistic variety which seems a little to have disorientated the preceding
attempts at classification; one can break up it into many sub-groups but it preserves despite everything a great
homogeneity. The progressive evolution highlighted between these sub-groups appears completely interesting
and cannot be, obviously, the fruit of the chance.
In a total way, we find in group 3 of the types of figures of reliquary offering the traditional components, namely
the rhombus in the plan of the face, an oval face or with ovoid tendency, the cap and the crescent. Let us give
more details on the principal elements:
The rhombus •. it still takes for specimens of certain sub-groups a vaguely spindle-shaped form but it is in this
group that it takes a geometrical form with frankly marked angles
The cap •. it remains of modest size, not becoming extensive of the caps of group 4. It develops gradually and
laterally starting from the top of the face and comes to be connected, always gradually, towards the chin. Each
side part of the cap thus has the vaguely hemispherical shape in half-moon. On the figures carved in modes A or
B, the hanging ones very often cylindrical and are planted perpendicularly with the lower edge of the cap; that
thus confers to them an oblique aspect compared to the axis of the object.
The crescent •. it can absent (sub-groups AO or BO) or, on the contrary, be very developed. It is strongly
curved, in particular on its lower edge and is moulded narrowly at the top of the face-cap unit.
One thus notices an almost continuous evolution of the extension of the crescent which wraps, according to
models', more or less completely the top of the unit face-cap (cf pi. 2). It can be tiny room with a kind of chignon
or fall down so that its points come to be welded at the extreme edges of the cap. For the reliquaries of this last
type, the higher edge of the crescent is aligned often perfectly with the lower edge of the unit face-cap, the
whole being registered in an almost perfect circle or with ovoid tendency. It releases from these parts a perfect
The enveloping evolution of the crescent is interesting and is absolutely observed for all group 3, as well for the
figures of reliquary treated flat (A) mode as for those treated in relief (modes B and Q That is perfectly visible
between the types of 1 to 5 on the board recapitulating the typology of various groups (pi 4). The model of type
0 does not reveal any increasing but, in this case, is essential a relative hypertrophy of the cap of which the side
parts can come to be closed again while being touched on the top of cranium. Type 6, as for him is characterized
by the fact that the side parts and the crescent are molten in a single unit surrounding complete lies the face
(except on the level of the chin).
We arbitrarily placed in type 7 a model whose "crescent" has the pace of
two species of horns falling down on each side of the face. This
configuration is curious is recurring whatever the mode of sculpture (A.
In group 3. the figures treated in with-dish show almost a whole a
decoration of face "plate" (except in 3b group), still visible decoration in
mode B, but the copper with-dishes are much more frequent. This
sub-group 3B is strongly characterized by a face curvature surmounting a
face lower punt. The limit can be curved by underlining the drawing of the
orbit of the eyes or arise with a brutal, rectilinear setback.
Let us make a special mention for the sculptures treated completely in
round bump (sub-group 3C). The face is carved in a realistic way which
confers air of a strange and characteristic family to them, as if they
corresponded to a school of sculpture. The relief of the bottom of the face
is not often marked but the mouth is always traced. The plating of metal
practically never presents lamcllagc; the cap narrow and is cut out in order
to appear of "hanging in with-dish" in its lower part, hanging, comparable
with those in "love-lock" of group 4; they are frequently perforated in their
This group 3 which sees, to some extent, an explosion of the diversity of the
forms, also shows a development of the diversity of the reasons for the
dorsal face, although the general pace remains close to a more or less
spindle-shaped rhombus. With the back of the specific reliquaries of the
group 3 C the rhombus widen sometimes until giving a square.
Alternatives: We will now describe groups of parts which completely
preserve the characters essenpermettant to bring them back to group 3
(evolutionary crescent aspect of the side parts) but which have in more of
the original characters compared to a "traditional" line. One feels the "leg"
of an artist, or a particular group sculptors or that of a clan.
Sub-group 03b: We classify here a series of figures of reliquary having the
principal characteristics of the group with regard to the cap and K growing
but which presents a particular face in the shape of spindle. The majority
of these figures are reported to Shamaye. In addition to the shape of the
face, the nose is prolonged by a fine edge rectilignc until the top of
cranium. Sometimes, the nose as such is not distinguished any more and
the edge which symbolizes it vertically cross-piece the face entirely. The
unit reaches there too, as for the bwete mahongwé, a high level of
abstraction. All the figures of this type of which we were informed are flat
treated (A) mode. We created for them this sub-group 03b. One will note
that in group 2 gather primarily figures shamaye with the side caps and
the crescent quasi absent (only a tiny cylindrical chignon difficult remains
to assimilate to an outline of crescent). The figures shamaye which we
integrate into style 3 have in a more or less clear way all the
characteristics defined for this group. Let us notice that the decoration
plate misses often with the profit of the use of copper in the form of plates.
Sub-group 03c (or style known as of Otala): There we approach a considerable category by their number (4 % of
the total) of rather curious figures. They preserve the general characteristics of groups 3 and 4. but it superimposes
on it a style of most original appearing in the general pace, the proportions and decoration. A. and F Chaffm. in
their work, qualify the forms of this style of: whimsical, without spirit, declining. They are obviously surprising, but, in
our opinion, the judgement is a little too pejorative: these objects deserve that one considers their case the more so
as some would be of a relative seniority ". Objects testifying to a declining art, perhaps. It is more obvious, than their
deep originality the marking down immediately of the other figures of groups 3 and 4. It makes hesitate to rather
attach them to the one of these groups than to the other because it seems that the sculptors of Otala somewhat
transgressed the coding which emanates from the forms to draw their inspiration a little at the ones a little at the
others. It however finds there the evolutionary organization of the crescent highlighted exclusively with group 3. It is
for these reasons that in a nonfinal way, we classify them in this group while creating, to distinguish them a sub-
group 03c. One can also have some hesitations to define the mode of sculpture of this family of figures which
differentiates them from that of the other groups: the face is always treated with a light relief which usually appears
on the level of the nose, the eyes and a pad surrounding the oval of the face. In addition, this one is carved on a
plan marking clear a surépaisscur (2 to 4 cm) compared to the plan of the side caps and crescent. That would
encourage to rather arrange this style in the mode C Notons also that with the back the usual rhombus is often
replaced by a simple longitudinal vein. Although less homogeneous, "unslung more", the style of Otala is not without
pointing out that of the sub-group 3C with its strange realism.
In ancestral Art of Gabon. L Perrois mentions this type of sculpture like typical village of Otala in the south of
Okondja. It seems that this model is the work of a sculptor or a school. In another publication, it evokes the memory
of a chief of this village, Aligni, which would have also been a remarkable sculptor. This one would have died about
1925 what gives a reference mark for the time of manufacture of some of these mboy. A reliquary of this type still
existed in the Seventies in a village obamba meadows of Franceville. It did not seem any more to be used for the
worship because it could be photographed in the medium of a group of children whereas another mboy (identical or
of another model?) carefully was held hidden by its guard.
To return from there to the style of this "school" of Otala. we must admit that it slices clearly with that of the other
groups: the proportions are disproportionate and one could easily imagine that the artist, although compels with the
codified characteristics of the objects of this worship, left free course with an imagination unslung by the use of
plants hallucinogens. Cene explanation was given recently for paintings rupestrcs to the style diverting of Tassili
Ajjer. in particular those which the Brcuil abbot had called the "round heads" •*. In this case one supposes that the
agent hallucinogen in question would be Yipomcra. whose seeds contain the natural elements of the L.S.D. In
Gabon, one knows that Viboga, plant from which the manducation of the bark causes similar effects, is used in a
systematic way in the worship of the bwiri. Will one be able to never know if the sculptors of the school of Otala had
recourse to such processes to find their inspiration? Certain creations are, to be strictly accurate, monstrous,
nightmarish and would tend to accredit this assumption! As for decoration, click also escapes from the usual rules.
That of the side parts for example, is not inevitably symmetrical compared to the vertical axis of the face and on
certain models, evolves/moves in a rather surrealist way, like besides, the general aspect of the figures of this
category. But, although surprising, their artistic qualities do not remain less real about it.
Enveloping evolution of the crescent in style 3
GROUP 4 - "TRADITIONAL" STYLE (37 %)
Like others, we chose "traditional" name because this group is quantitatively, one of represented best and that the
balance and the stability of its forms give the impression which one reaches with him with the plenitude of art kota;
one will find, indeed, only few variations around the basic model which one can define the principal characteristics
- the rhombus shows variations of detail from one figure to another but it is, in general, enough solid mass.
- the face is oval and regular.
- the side caps are largely dimensioned often deviating from the face. The external edge marks a more or less
marked curve and more or less returning to finish on a horizontal lower edge, practically right, like half-compartment
with the knife. To the limit, the external edge can fall vertically. It never widens towards outside. A certain number of
models present an unfolding of the cap marking itself by a light setback thickness. The part located against the face
is decorated with false plates.
- the crescent is quasi always massive, broad (it can exceed the side parts of the cap). Its lower edge is almost right
and horizontal or very slightly curved. It is rare that it wraps the cap.
- the hanging ones are of three types (for the modes A and Q -. - cylindrical (A) type
- in the shape of trapezoid (standard B) (in these two cases they hang vertically because they are planted thus at
the lower edge of the cap)
- in "tear-HEART" (standard C). Here they constitute a prolongation by tapering of the base of the side caps. Under
these conditions, it is the only case where the base of these last is not rcctilignc. One even observes, sometimes, a
transition curve of the side cap towards the base of the face which shows the possibility for possible reminiscences
of the characters of group 3.
At the interior of this group, the mode B presents a face very curvature overhanging the eyes by a right and
horizontal edge giving an aspect completely characteristic to this kind of figures for which we observed only the
hanging cylindrical ones. In a very recent number of Arts of Black Africa. Jacques Germain brings interesting
reflexions on this stylistic sub-group of a great homogeneity which it primarily allots to Mindoumou edges of the M
passed As all those which consider the question, the author runs up against the brittleness and the low number of
testimonys worthy of faith. Our personal file, for example, mentions several figures with face curvature coming from
an area located between Lastoursvillc and Okondja. i.e. enough far at north from that allotted normally to
Mindoumou. But, on another side, we recognize that details stylistics of these "convex faces" evoke certain
characteristics of the mbulu-ngulu of the Mossendjo-Zanaga. area being next to the territory of Mindoumou. what
consolidates the opinion of J Germain.
The mode C as for him offers faces treated with a seizing realism. These figures are among more majes tueuses of
As for the dorsal part, the figurations which one can observe there do not seem to show great innovations
compared to those of group 3.
CROUP 5 - STYLE MASANCO (5 %)
These figures of reliquary, original by
the reduced dimension of the face, are
attached well, of rough the data in our
possession in Masango and the
surrounding ethnos groups > '. Another
characteristic: they "were often
collected" associated their basket
containing the relics, of kind that it one
always does not see very well the base
of the object. It emerges in general only
above the higher part of the rhombus.
The face is of small size: a few
centimetres broad, a di/ainc top, on
average. It is covered by a lamcllage or
by plates with copper. The side caps
miss always; on the other hand, a
representation of the cap can appear on
behind cranium. In certain cases one
observes an evocation of chignon which
is not without pointing out that of bwété
mahongwé. The eyes are treated in a
rather realistic way. Very often the eye is
carried out with the dl' means a disc of
clear colour held in its center by a nail,
thus giving to the glance an intense
fixity. Small mother-of-pearl buttons were
often used. Moreover, the eyebrows are
frequently represented even when the
face is treated in with-dish.
In this group 5. one also finds faces
carried out in relief, in a realistic way; in
this case the copper plating is definitely
JANUS (less than 3 %)
Certain figures of reliquary are with double face: they then are qualified [ anus (Kota of the south call them
mbulu-vitt ]. Several observations are essential:
- Janus exist especially in the group 4".
- One of the faces always shows a face flat treated (A) mode. The hanging ones can be indifferently of the three
styles (cylindrical, in triangle, feather bed).
- the other face presents at the choice one of the three modes: flat (A) mode, half-round-bossc (B) mode or
sculpture in the round (mode C). One never finds the modes B or C juxtaposed between them.
These observations seem well to show that the treatment (in with-dish or relief) was not a speciality of the artist
since it could carve the same object on various modes. That also shows that this last was, there too, compels with
As for their significance, we can to only refer us in the opinions, not always very coherent, advisors of Andcrsson.
According to some, the figures of Janus allowed to the guards relics to eat two kinds of food: the hen on a side, the
game of the other. But apart from that, the styles, concave on a side, convex of the other, would have been only
one question of taste... Does one have to see there a relation with some prohibited which applied especially to the
women and who could accredit the fact that the concave side could have represented a female being and convex
masculine? All that remains, in our opinion, still badly established the more so as concave-convex differentiation
does not appear, as we will further show it, that tardily in the stylistic evolution. A little further, Andersson
announces that in its opinion the majority of the images which currently exist and all those (fled are modern (?)
belong to the concave type, while the convex ones are in general very few and old. D specifies that the really old
images are very often Bi-frontal from where it results that the Janus reason is probably very old at Kota. }.-C
Andrault, as for him, is not of this opinion and estimates that the concave figures, most stripped stylistiquement.
are oldest. Moreover, a little further in its text. Andersson recognizes: the natives say however that, among the
simple images, the concave ones are oldest. We will see that at the end of this reflexion on art kota, the treatment
in relief of the figures of reliquary will start to intervene only in group 3 (thus later on with the figures mahongwé
and shamaye) and will take all its rise with group 4, i.e. in the ultimate phase (most recent) of the stylistic evolution.
As Janus are not, for the majority, that in group 4, we can deduce from it that Andersson was mistaken. It is
however excusable because its survey was carried out in a zone (area of Mossendjo in Congo) where practically
only this last group was represented and it could not have a sufficiently broad overall picture of all the types of
The only explanation concerning Janus which one can accept without too many reserves is the fact that the
mbulu-viti would have been of force and row higher than the others (mbulu-viti - large the mbulu).
8 Kota - Assumptions and Conclusion
At the end of this test on the funerary art of Kota, we realize that, as it is very often the case.
more problems are raised that one cannot solve some. This reflexion however allowed
to develop some ideas on two principal points: the stylistic typology and evolution of different
categories of figures of reliquary in relation to the various ethniques groups concerned.
The examination of typology that we have just outlined, lets predict that the variety of models involved
is not duke randomly. Like points out it Valerie Nam, we have in these figures a corpus of one [... ]
great unit ". An organization sembk to take shape clearly within each group as well as reports/ratios
evolutionary from one group to another. For this last case, we will return there a little further. It is especially within
group 3 that a true coding of the types of figures appears clearly. We return the kctcur to
board 4. extremely speaking on this subject. One observes there an astonishing coherence between ks various
forms and the evolutionary tendency of the crescent, whatever the technique of treatment of the object: in
with-dish, half round bump or in round bump. That one does not come to say to us that td sculptor left completely
free course with its imagination to carry out a figure. Its production is integrated in a rigorous diagram and art kota
appears like something of very succeeded. At a given moment, at Kota. K made treat the object in relief or not.
or the form which one gave to the crescent was to have a significance and to correspond to a tendency or with
a quite precise use. This in relation to was the quality of the clan, the ancestors represented 7 simple
assumption: the solar or lunar cycles could have an unspecified relationship with the form and the size of
growing? We explain: if its pars had intended to fix for the posterity a notable event
(birth, death) of the existence of the ancestor whom they had decided to symbolize by the sculpture of a mbulu-
ngulu. it is possible that they could take their reference marks with the astrological signs, the only ones which them
were accessible such as for example the shape from the lunar crescent to a given moment. That remains obviously
field of assumptions that we cannot support yet. They should not however be rejected has
priori. Since a certain number of years, researchers specialists in paleolithic art wonder about
the probable existence of astral signs in the parietal representations (in Lascaux. for example) and on
their relationships to the message that the Prehistoric ones wanted to translate through the worships that they
practised * >.
That to show that any remainder still to be discovered. The direct relationship with the clan or the ethnos group
appears secondary. The mode of treatment was not either a speciality of the sculptor since, in the case of
(anus, one finds different treatments on the same object. We stressed besides that for the case
of these objects, associations of mode followed a precise rule: mode A-mode A, mode A-mode B and mode Has
mode C. Mode A (concave) is always present: one never observes the juxtaposition of two treated faces
According to information in our possession, the figures of reliquary of groups 3 and 4 refer to several
ethnos groups without it being obvious to find a "signature" specifies for each one of it. We will see further
that these stylistics groups correspond rather exactly to Obamba. Bawumbu. Mindassa. and Mindoumou.
i.e. with the ethnos groups occupying the territories in the south of Mounianghi. By convenience and because our
information does not enable us to be more precise in the attribution of the styles to the ethnos groups, us them
will call like Parois: "Kota of the south". That wants to thus say that coding exceeded the strict framework of
ethnique group and that there was a common rule for several groups. Only Mahongwé and Masango
seemed to dissociate and preserve a stylistic originality. Shamaye, as for them, bring them
clean stylistic print but remain dependent on this curious rule of the shape of the crescent.
OBJECTS OF RECENT MAKING
It does not seem useless to us to say some words on the figures or copies of figures of inspiration kota
manufactured after the first decades of the XX' century whereas the worship was in the process of disappearance.
In fact, it is a study supplements which could be undertaken on the way in which an art also succeeded worsened
into same time that the traditional company disaggregated correlatively with the colonial impact. Cene decline is
accelerated with the request increasing for exotic memories on behalf of Europeans of causing passage
the mass production of more or less successful stereotyped pseudo-figures. It seems well that the tradition
artistic lost itself on the spot: very few objects of recent manufacture can be compared with old
in the field of stylistic quality. One is even surprised by certain produced "horrors" which have nothing any more
but one very remote relationship with traditional art. Certain craftsmen in spite of acquired very a certain reputation
for quality of their copies: one can quote Boulacongo which made rather curious figures, a little in K style
dl' Otala, and Simon Misery, originating in the village of Makatamangoyc between Okondja and Makokou. H is
currently known in K small world of the experts of Gabonese art for the quality of its counterparts, especially those
manufactured before the Eighties. Its production is, definitely less interesting since. Simon Misère copied
figures different styles with a real concern from precision but it was especially at ease with the mahongwé style.
ethnos group in which it is originating. However, the whole of its productions presents a curious anomaly: all with
copper dishes on the face (for example, the "cross"). or with the back of its sculptures, are uniformly piquetés,
what is never the case on the authentic parts. This is an imagination, signature of artist or convention screw-with
live his for differentiating well from the objects not intended for the worship?
The creativity, the artistic direction will return perhaps a day with other forms. Evolution relatively
recent of new syncretic worships mingling the religious aspect with a will with development with the identity
African could be at the origin of a new demonstration of this creativity. It was the case of the bwiti, enters
others. More recently, for certain demonstrations of what one calls nd/obt in the East of Gabon, one
us on the spot showed curious masks of a completely new style. One attends the rebirth perhaps there
of an artistic creation, perhaps stammering, but that it would be interesting to follow.
|Fig. 7: Simon Misery in the Seventies
(photo R. Groux).
The PLACE of the ARTIST
While advancing in this reflexion we must admit well that the considerable variety of aspect of the figures of
reliquary kota is not duke with the total imagination of the artist. We explain: the sculptor remains obviously that
who creates the form, gives him his force, his harmony. But the parameters remain almost immutable with the centre
of a stylistic group; we will further see the correspondence is finally rather good with ethniques groups. The
organization of these forms, the coding which transparait some show that the dignitaries kota has doubtless in close
cooperation with the sculptors.
Strongly influenced on the styles according to their tastes and to adapt them to the needs for the rites. Some
communication was to exist between the clans so that the homogeneity of the styles is possible It is one besides
traditional report in African art: certain sculptors of talent enjoyed a reputation which exceeded
often limits of their clan. The close ethnos groups did not scorn to place order of sculptures to them
who although used by these last, could present some influences of the ethnos group of the artist. Thus
are explained, at least partially, of affinities stylistics which one still observes between close ethnos groups that
different origins. In the same way can be explained ks relations very narrow stylistics between
various ethniques sub-groups gathered under the Kota. term which followed nearby ways of migration
or convergent but not inevitably identical.
Within a ethnique sub-group, starting from a source of perhaps remote inspiration in time and in
space, according to the rules of the ethnos group, while referring to other objects of worship which liked, the
sculptor could then only give free course to its talent. This one, moreover, inevitably was not always with
appointment: all the mbulu-ngulu are not œuvres of art! But force is to recognize that good number
of these sculptors were true artists and knew to give their personal key in the purity of
forms which they carved and the beauty of decoration. This control of the style, the geometry and balance
forms, we observe it in the abstraction of the face, in the inscription of the lines of the crescent and the caps
side, sometimes of the rhombus, in perfect ovals. Their creativity was also expressed in the evolution "
controlled "of the forms leading to the various styles which we know today.
Were these artists of last times completely anonymous? The collective memory it transmitted us it
to remember some of them? To tell the truth, they are very few those whose names reached us.
Taking again the rare information collected by Andrault, Chaffm. Perrois and the Dapper. Museum we will quote:
oldest known (end of the XIX' - beginning of the XX' century):
- Aligni. died about 1920, sculptor of the school of Otala (grandfather of Okwéré).
- Koba. Wumbu. married to a girl of the Poupi chief.
- Léké. Ndassa de Voula. With sold figures of reliquary in Andersson about 1935.
- Loba. Obamba d' Okouma.
- Me Poupi of the area of Moanda-Franceville.
- Obanga of the village of Andjogo.
- Obili. Obamba de Franceville.
- Okwéré or Okwélé. sculptor of the school of Otala (grandson of Aligni). produced between 1920 and 1940.
- Scmangoy. Wumbu of the area of Moanda. With provided the Poupi chief.
Among those of second half of the XX' century, having manufactured figures with use not cultuel:
- Boulakongo. Tsangui de Mamidi. died in 1969. Œuvrait in the style of Otala.
- Ungwala de Franceville.
- Simon Misery of Makatamangoye which made its more beautiful counterparts in the Seventies.
- Tembangoy (or Tebangoy). Nzabi de Mounana.
Even if their names did not reach us all, far from it, the examination of many figures allows sometimes
to recognize the "leg" of some of them: identical forms and completions, even blow of hand. Some
indices make it possible, without more precision, to suppose that certain parts had a common creator. For
to finish, one could wonder whether one can speak artists or simple endowed craftsmen, if one sticks to
appreciations of some which, indeed, deny with the authentic manufacturers of objects the qualifier "of artists" in
measure where they do not make art for art but simply of the objects successful on ordering of their ethnos group.
This opinion can be criticized bus many artists in the world recognized like such (painters, sculptors) and since
very a long time carried out the majority of their œuvres on order. We will be satisfied to notice that.
whatever their "statute", certain Cola produced works of very high artistic quality and that with our
humble opinion, there was among these people, especially in the high time, of the artists as authentic as those which
one currently recognizes in other fields and other environments.
ORIGIN AND EVOLUTION of ART KOTA
The questions are numerous and it is to be feared that one can never give satisfactory answers to it
before a long time. Any reflexion on the subject inevitably brings to reconsider the past of the African continent
entirety. And there too, the interrogations exceed the certainty: from which come Kota. with when their art goes up
under its current form? Why did they make copper one of the essential ornaments their objects of worship? For
to answer, it would already be necessary to be much better indicated on the history of these people and his
migrations No doubt that these last influenced their Article in particular if this one started to take form to five
hundreds or to thousand kilometers, if not more, of their current territory.
PROBLEM OF THE RELATIONSHIPS TO THE CLOSE ETHNOS GROUPS
In the catalogue of the superb exposure devoted to arts of Gabon, organized in 1997 to the Museum of Aquitaine
with Bordeaux ". Louis Perrois wonders about the striking difference between the forms Bi-dimensionndies of the
figures kota and those more generous, three-dimensional, of the statuary fang: This astonishing formal contrast in
an area relatively little extended Africa (the basin of Ogooué and its borders), with the universes of beliefs too
similar, N ' is not explained in the field of the evolution of the styles. Reasons of this difference in the expression
plastic of the same topic (the ancestor of chalk-lining) are probably to seek in the old cultural contacts
occurred during displacements in all this part of central Africa (of Cameroun in Centra/Tique and
in Congo-Zaire) since several centuries.
This proximity of the territories occupied at the present time by Fang and Kota could let to us suppose
that it existed for a long time, making it possible to these two people to establish contacts of various nature, even if
one holds account of their displacements during last centuries. It is probable that it was thus at the time of
final part of their respective migrations whereas, coming from more septentrional regions, they followed ways
appreciably parallel. It is true also that some sculptures allotted to Fang offer characteristics typically kota and
reciprocally. We will present only two examples below of them well known:
|Fig. 9: plated copper statuette allotted to Mbété but evoking the style fang,
catalogues Drouot-Montaigne of the 29 05 90
For Masango that we include within the framework of this work, the stylistic influence is much clearer since them
figures of the mbumba show all systematically the copper rhombus and plating. In way much more
exceptional that at these last people, the copper plating was also used on masks kwélé. ethnos group
often in conflict vicinity with Kota. Such masks remain rare (it was announced by it a few units)
but they show that the copper ornamentation, expensive in Kota. strictly did not limit itself to the eth- groups
•Mjue * related * and that it seems to have inspired some by other *, by ihapiei contact "of proximité.Nous let us be
besides conscious that the relations stylistics between arts of all these people of the basin of Ogooué would deserve
thorough research which would exceed, however, the framework that us summons itself * fixed. But observation
of Pcrrois is very relevant: in spite of some loans in one or the other direction, art * fang and luxated divergent
deeply, would be this only on the level of the techniques of expression. If the statuary fang indicates a direction of
very thorough stylization, never it does not reach the abstraction of the concave parts. The sources of the
inspiration are thus doubtless different and to manage to show that Kota gradually worked out their funerary art
with the favour of technological contributions and cultural assets progressively with their migration, we will have to
test to further go up at the same time in time and space. But if majority of the currently visible reliquaries
in the collections were certainly not manufactured there is more one or two centuries, that would tend to show that
their origin (at least for certain stylistics groups) is obviously, definitely older.
|H.T.4 Hunters obamba photographed by E Anderson in the
area of Mossendjo, Congo in the Thirties.
PROBLEM of ORIGIN OF COPPER
Although in African art the use of copper is rather frequent, its systematic use in plating on the face
of all the figures of reliquary is a completely original characteristic. This use went to the ornamentation
relics elks-mémes by plates or wire of copper or brass. The tradition of copper appears enough
old and bkn anchored in the culture kota. At Mbédé (Mbeté). for example, the language uses a vocabulary
specific to indicate K coppers decorating the objects of worship. If according to the R.P. Biton and Monseigneur
Adam ". omdumbu (or umburubu ] as kalamba indicate at the same time the metal of the old dishes like the object
itself flax dete exclusively bring back to the copper wire ornaments. Moreover, two words appear to apply all
particulkrement with the coating of the mbulu-ngulu •. gibono which means "to decorate copper wire" and gikutaha
•. "to cover plates".
The use of this metal raises, in our opinion, many questions: in prcmkr place, why copper? Must one see one there
relationship with K makes that ks Kota was good metallurgists even if their talents were especially exerted on K iron.
abundant metal in many areas of Africa. In was it the same with copper? This last metal does not exist
not naturally in the zone that they currently occupy, not more than in the areas to leave desquclks one
estimate that they migrated. In spite of some information brought back per H. Deschamps ", all research
carried out in ks archaean of the Solid mass of Chaillu or sedimentary series of the basins of Francevilk. d' Okondja
or of Lastoursvilk. never could highlight substantklks quantities of this metal. Prospections that
we personndkment led daN * these areas during nearly twenty years did not give any positive result.
Andersson reports that Kota would have exploited copper with the Libayi mount. with an about sixty kilometers in
north of Zaruga. Ashiras "are also copper founders. They find some in the mountains, in quantity
enormous, they ensure. Further, it adds -.Je did not see old excavations there, with share the cavities cupri/êres of
Angani mountains, dug by Ashiras of most Angani. In the same way, we do not have personally
no confirmation of these old exploitations. However information is plausible and would deserve some
research because the country Ashira (or Eshira) extends partly on geological formations identical to those from
mines of the area of Boko-Songho and Mindouli, with several hundred kilometers towards south-east, in Congo. In
any case the routes followed by Kota remains enough far from the area described by A. Horn. For the little that one
in knows, taking into account the vague character of information, when one goes up further in time and in
space, it seems that they never were in the presence of copper layers throughout their
migration. If they were copper never minors, they were not less excellent blacksmiths.
If one sticks to these only data and if one reasons only by taking of account the current position of
Kota. one sees badly how the blooming of this art using also largely copper could have developed
before its introduction by Europeans in central Africa. If it is noted that systematically, copper used
is only of European origin, it appears legitimate to consider that the art of the reliquaries KB your at least in the form
that we currently know to him, does not go up with more than three centuries. It is besides what tends to believe
Andcrsson which does not exclude despite everything step that it could exist before without this metal. Some
figures, completely deprived of copper, are known besides. Are -ellcs contemporary different or the older? It is
difficult to specify it. Those which we observed are attached, by the shape of the cap, with style 4 of
classification that we estimate, as well as the majority of the authors, like a style of end of evolution. They cannot
thus to be considered very old.
|Fig. 10: mask kwele, Congo,
entirely plated wood of copper.
Metal strongly is oxidized and
patinated. Particular collection
(photo G Delorme).
One cannot study the art of a human group like that of Kota without holding account of their displacements and of
obligatory interactions with the people with whom it was in contact many centuries before. That
remain however delicate because of the absence of reliable data beyond some generations. But, taking into
account importance which copper in the funerary art takes kota. one perceives quickly that a better knowledge
problems related at the origin and the diffusion of this metal in Africa précdonialc could bring some
brief replies and, by the best appreciation of the trade flows with the other people, better
to specify the origin and the routes of the migration of Kota. The important work completed by Eugenia Herbert and
published in 1984 pennies the title Redgold of AJrica * makes it possible to release some essential ideas which can
inform us on way in which Kota could be in contact with this metal. Until relatively little time ago, one believed that it
had not had a true "Age of Copper" in Africa subsaharicnnc and which one had passed directly from the Age of
Pierre with that of Iron, or, perhaps simultaneously at the Age of Copper and the Age of Iron was to forget that it
the last is rather early in Africa since the last datings make it go up with 34OO B.P. and that them
first metallurgy indices of copper were dated towards 4000 B.P. in the area from Agadez in Niger.
Unfortunately information misses to specify how, as from this time, the knowledge of
metallurgy was diffused on the whole of the continent. In forest belt, die seems much later and it is necessary
to await the paddle of the Christian era to find the first testimonys of them. Always it has been that for one millenium
at least the use of copper is particularly developed there, well before the arrival of Europeans.
|H.T. 5 wood Sculpture raised of some
metal elements, Obamba,
Gabon/république of Congo
One exploited an oxidized ore, most of the time the malachite, which did not require a complicated treatment. Its
surface position allowed its exploitation the free air, sometimes by wells or trenches going down very
seldom below 30 Mr. of depth. The majority of the old extract ranges were found. Us
let us quote below those which could be located, in a very broad way, in the "sphere of influence" of Kota. One
will notice that the principal ones are in direction of the south:
- the enormous cupriferous area of Katanga (today Shaba), in the south-east of the democratic Republic of Congo
and who continues himself towards Zambia. Its exploitation goes up with nearly one millenium. It is the only one
which, at the present time, fact still the object of important exploitations.
- the area of Niari, with the sites of Mindouli and Me Boko-Shongo. According to E Herbert, the copper of these
areas had to be distributed towards north by the valleys of Sangha and Oubangui.
- Some old mining sites of less importance can be noted in Angola (Bembe and Benguela).
Curiously, in direction of north, the occurrences are dispersed much and of size much less
- sites of the area of Agadez, Azelik and Takedda in Niger.
- the site of Hufrat in-Nahas (nahas = Arabic copper) in the south-west of Sudan and, while going up even more in
direction of the North-East, the Egyptian Eastern desert.
- the area located between the Bénoué-Niger confluence and the heights of Calabar at Nigeria. These recent
discoveries could constitute a draft of answer to the questions raised by the existence of a rich person art based on
copper and its alloys in all this area (Igbo-Ukwu, Ifè, Bénin).
In spite of this disparity of the sources of provisioning, copper was extremely appreciated on the whole of
the Black Africa and, by the means of important exchanges, it could circulate far from its sources of extraction in
the form ingots, small crosses (coming especially from Katanga), of stems (bars) and wire. The copper wire was
very widespread in central Africa as of XIVe and XVe centuries and was especially produced for the decoration of
objects. Wiredrawing was realized by the successive passages of copper stems frayed beforehand and heated in
perforated plates with increasingly small diameters. This technique does not seem to have been known in West
The copper of Katanga went up towards north (Lualaba and area of the Large Lakes and towards the North-West
(by the river Kasaï). The copper of Niari, as for him, left in direction the Malebo Pool from where it could go up far
towards the North-East by the course of Congo and Oubangui. Its zone of influence stopped in the higher course
of this river, in front that of copper coming from Hufrat in-Nahas and of Egypt.
One can wonder why other metals, at the same time easier to extract and naturally more abundant in
many areas of Africa, were not used: iron, for example, or gold. For the first metal, one can
to admit easily that it was too oxydable and, from its abundance, too not very prestigious for such a use. Gold,
as for him, although regarded as invaluable, is in sometimes large quantity in the alluvia of
rivers of considerable areas of Africa. Relatively easy to detect, easy to exploit and work, metal
inalterable and with the incomparable glare, it is curious that it did not interest the Africans, except where one could
note a long influence of the Arabs and Europeans as in West Africa. But "the fascination of the Blacks for
copper has equal only attraction of the gold exerted on the Arabs and the other people "". That gold was or not
present on the way of the migration kota, one does not find of them traces of use in their craft industry nor in their
Generally, copper was extremely required, more especially as its red color was extremely marked;
its scarcity held it for uses of prestige "In the African companies précoloniales as a whole, it
copper was an indicator of statute: statute in the direction of richness, prestige, social status, and authority, but
also of statute in comparison with the sex, of the age, and the stages of the human life. It was also used in all one
variety of other contexts ritual more difficult to classify "Mr. In many areas of Africa the enormous ones
quantities of copper were buried with the late ones, thus testifying to the influence of the latter. Because of
many virtues that one lent to him, copper had become a true currency of exchange. In Zambia, in Katanga,
in Low-Congo, this role dealt with the crosses or small crosses whose size could vary few centimetres with
several tens. In exchange and West Africa, in particular, in Nigeria, were practised rather with "
The arrival of Europeans hardly modified these uses. On the contrary, the first newcomers found an outlet there
any loan for their respective economies: the demand was keen and the indigenous production did not manage to
satisfy it that partially and irregularly. As of the end of XVe century, they are the Portuguese who started to pour
great quantities of copper and brass in the form of manilles and all kinds of objects of which the famous neptunes
(umbumbu}. But the exchanges could take an opposite circuit; and one could be astonished by what to the XVI' and
XVII centuries the Portuguese reported notable quantities of copper of Angola and Niari.
Dutchmen, then the English, the Germans and the French entered the ones after the others the race.
During a time, local copper remained always snuffed by its quality and by its red color and two coppers have
cohabited. Brass made its appearance and this alloy, whose indigenous production seems to have been rather late
and limited, started to like more and more. At the XIXe century, Africa was truly flooded by the importation of these
metals. Gerard Collomb "reports that the mission of the African West, directed by Brazza, had carried some close of
5000. Hundreds of tons of brasswire were poured by Europeans in Congo to pay the hand
of œuvre. One also used stems of this metal in thin payment of the painful efforts of the drudgeries of bearing
or of the harvest of rubber, in particular at the time of the disaster time of the State Independent of Congo. Not
being able to support competition more, the local mines stopped the ones after the others. The process only makes
to develop at the beginning of the XXe century when any local production dies out definitively.
It is thus in this context that art Kota occurred and we will be more astonished only the figures by reliquary
were abundantly decorated of copper or brass: metals of prestige par excellence in all the Black Africa,
they were it also for Kota. Metals often used to honour the late ones, of which maintained surface
carefully brilliant reinforced the force of the ancestor while being used as reflectors with the evil spells, they
constituted the interface enters the world of dead and that of the alive ones. Since many centuries and thus well
before the arrival of the first Europeans, copper and brass were available a little everywhere in Africa.
Unfortunately, this multiplicity of the trade flows will not be to us, a priori, of a great help to have a presentiment of
with certainty one
hearth of origin particularly Net. Even if the massive arrival of the neptunes does not appear completely foreign
with the expansion of large the reliquaries group 4, that makes it possible however to consider the assumption that
the origin of this art is not obligatorily dependent on the arrival of Europeans in central Africa. It is also the opinion
of the participants in the round table on Kota behaviour with the Dapper Foundation from the 15 to September 19,
1986 To simply check the presence of an "indigenous" copper on many figures of reliquary would be already very
rich of teaching. But the use of the spectrography of mass with the simultaneous analysis of many elements
chemical could allow to go further: taking into account the characteristics of the ores and processes
artisanal of fusion and manufacture, the origin of certain coppers could be specified. The proportioning of the
elements constitutive of metal should also bring lights on the question and perhaps allow to locate them
old metallurgy centers which could have provided copper. To multiply these analyses, especially on the specimens
supposed most antiquated, would be higher interest to date this art and to specify the peregrinations of old
Kota. We will return there a little further while examining the possible sources of artistic inspiration.
PROBLEM Of the ORIGIN OF PEOPLE KOTA AND HIS INSPIRATION
What surprises, it is the deep morphological originality of the figures of reliquary. Nowhere elsewhere one does not
find objects evoking, of near or by far, these forms, this stylization. It is necessary to go up to ancient Egypt for
to find representations offering some "airs of family". This would be to let itself go to an imagination too much
overflowing to consider the possibility of relationship between this remote part of the African continent and the
people kota? Theories formulated by Sheik Anta Diop on the seniority of the history and the African culture and of
close connections with old Egypt come to are took. But that one grants some credit or not to the ideas of the
Senegalese historian, it should be admitted that they have with less great interest to be used as a basis of reflexion
while calling in question the reasoning "eurocentrist" of Westerners in their design of the African history and,
generally, their approach of Africa and of Africans. Without completely accrediting the theses of Diop, the
archaeological discoveries of these twenty last years call into question many generally accepted ideas. They in
particular tend to stress the contribution important of the black people in ancient Egyptian civilization. Already in
1970, in the chapter reserved in Egypt and in Nubie of the work general History of the Black Africa 41, Jean Leclant
insisted on the obligatory reports/ratios having had to exist between ancient Egypt and the remainder of the Black
Africa. The precise history of these relations is difficult with to reconstitute taking into account the insufficiency of
the means put in œuvre but it is probable that knowledge will improve in the decades to come. Currently, in the
field of African art, it is not possible to reason that by analogies. Thus one cannot prevent oneself from highlighting
the resemblances enough striking between the figures kota, especially those of group 4, and representations of
heads of Pharaons: with their caps side largely developed. It is trying to find with these objects a "pharaonic" pace.
Always with regard to the cap and its accessories, Andersson sees in the hanging ones (that it calls, of "
ankles "or of the" wicks") of the possible analogies with capillary ornaments going up with antiquity
Egyptian woman. Apart from the resemblances of morphological aspect enters the figures of reliquary kota and the
heads pharaonic, we could also highlight another analogy, that consisting in covering
representation of late by a metal plating: gold on the statues and sarcophagi of the Pharaons, copper on
representations of the high-ranking dignitaries of the clans kota. In both cases, metal obliterates the color
original of the subject and gives him an unreal appearance. This convergence of the modes of expression, namely
plating of a metal shining, thus transforming its real appearance, on an unspecified support, is at the same time not
very current and strange. Other Africanists, the such R.P. Briault quoted by A. Raponda-Raponda-Walker, also
raised the "similarity striking between art Bantou and old Egypt ". Are these analogies purely fortuitous? Even if, a
priori, nothing do not seem to bring closer these two civilizations, apparently distant at the same time in time and
space and if it do not exist at the present time any outline of evidence concerning of the relations, same remote,
between Kota and Egyptian civilization, the question would deserve to be thorough.
As we indicated higher, no one does not deny that important exchanges inevitably existed between Egypt
antique and the remainder of the black continent, in particular by Méroé. In the work referred to above, Jean
Leclant concludes on these words: Whatever the reserves to be brought, many resemblances are obvious
between pharaonic civilization and African cultures. There are three or four thousand years, the Sahara did not
constitute this natural obstacle with the exchanges between people. The environment was more lenient there and
of civilizations lived it and brought a rupestral art there testifying to an already advanced culture. The high valley of
the Nile also saw evolving/moving since front thousand-year-old trots our era of brilliant civilizations (kingdoms
koushitcs) which developed trade and cultural as well towards north as towards the south. This gigantic valley
indeed offered a corridor privileged to penetrate in the heart continent. And there, in the equatorial areas, it was
not nothing: as we already announced higher, the history of the people of these areas does not start, a few
centuries ago, with the bits of information paid by the oral tradition like by the accounts of the first foreign
travellers. Discoveries archaeological which does not cease multiplying in all central Africa give us the proof of the
has a few thousands of years, as technologically advanced companies as those of Europe at the same time.
Lithic industry, for example, presents analogies. Two at least thousand years ago, of the populations of "
metallurgists "come from regions located more at north occupied of many areas of equatorial Africa and
multiple vestiges of work of iron left. The research undertaken in East Africa showed that with this
time, by rudimentary but clever processes, one manufactured acier4i. Which reports/ratios could well
to exist between these blacksmiths and those of the high valley of the Nile nubien where, just a few centuries
before, the talent of was metallurgists of the Méroé antique extremely famous? These relations were not directed
besides inevitably in the direction Egypt ancienne/Nubie towards the remainder of Africa as one believed a long
time: the iron of Napata is dated of 2750 B.P.. that of Méroé of 2550 B.P. whereas recent research shows two old
metallurgy, one in Tcrmit in Niger with at least 3400 B.P. and the other towards 3100 B.P. in Rwanda-Burundi.
Taking into account datings at our disposal, the appearance of the metallurgy of iron seems to have appeared
more tardily in Nigeria (2200 B.P.). in Cameroun then in Gabon (20OO B.P). Can one see in the spreading out of
these dates, rather than proof of displacements of populations, the indication and stakes of large currents of
The existence of industrieuses populations everywhere where the parameters of the environment allowed it
inevitably was the engine of trade and cultural at long distances. In the same way, it is certain that them
climatic conditions were an essential element with regard to the development of the activity of different
people. Being added to purely historical causes of origin, their variations during last millenia and
in particular the last phase of aridiftcation could be one of the important causes their migrations towards
wetter areas of the south. How our Kota are located in this nonfixed vision of the African continent 7 It is quite
difficult to specify and us will be able to stick only to the information delivered by the oral tradition (supra'} which
fixes the reference marks more moved away from the migration of Obamba in a zone finally rather not very precise
which one can delimit of the borders the North-East of the current democratic Republic of Congo to the areas of
the High Sangria In the light of these at the very least vague indications but which all confirm this arrival of the
populations kota by the North-East, with the light also of information in our possession on the origin
copper which appears a key element to us to answer these questions, we can try to erect scaffolding
some principal assumptions concerning the origin of the influences having given rise to art kota. Us
clearly let us specify that we do not intend to deal with here the problem of the geographical origin of these
populations, it who is completely out of our range. It is rather a question of encircling the zones or currents cultural,
commercial and technological which could have affected the culture of the proto-Kota at the time of their migrations
and before the European influences do not become dominating. One could approximately define four principal
currents, moreover nonexclusive (cf pi. 1):
1. INFLUENCES ON THE BASIS OF THE BASIN OF THE NIARI: as we already announced higher, this area was
dice it XVI' century, an active mining center which would have provided, inter alia, of the consequent quantities of
copper. They would have summer exported on the Malebo Pool which was for a long time a place of important
trade. From there, it metal could go up the Congo river and Oubangui in direction of the North-East •'. It is thus
very probable that all with length of their migration, the kota groups could be supplied out of copper of this source.
2. INFLUENCES From The COPPERBELT • although nothing indicates that they reached these regions, one cannot
to exclude, that at certain times at least, Kota could receive their copper since the south-east of the Republic
democratic of Congo by certain waterways. Dice X' century of our era indeed, this last area, by
example, exported copper in the form of ingots, of "croisertcs" and also of wire as well towards the West coast
(Angola) that towards the East coast. If one admits with Martin Alihanga that Obamba were formerly over high the
summer, they could extremely well be in relation to the copper of Katanga by the shopping streets of Lualaba
(upstream of Congo river).
3. INFLUENCES SOUDANO-ÊGYPTIENNES: in the same way and by the hydrographic network of the Nile, the area
of high Uélé is not well far either from old Nubie which was into full in the sphere of influence with Egypt
antique. Without going until advancing that the origin of the traditions kota would have taken its source in the
culture of Egypt antique, it is not impossible to imagine that old Kota could one being day confronted with vestiges
there old civilization and could find a source of inspiration. Even if one currently tends to consider
that the metallurgy bantu was born in situ, it is not impossible that by this way, old Kota could profit
certain receipts of the metallurgy of High Egypt and its artistic culture. At all events, the area
metalliferous of Hufirat in-Nahas. to the south-eastern borders of Sudan, far away from high not being élé could not
constitute one their old sources of provisioning.
4. NIGERIANS INFLUENCES: always according to the information brought back by Martin Alihanga. migration
Obamba would have followed a route in two East-West phases leading it to the Atlantic coast by the south of
Current Cameroun before returning towards south-east. This route too is not with the variation of the rich person
zone of influence technique and artistic Nigerian brass bronze: art of Benign, ifè and Igbo-Ukwu.
Also let us announce that the recent studies locate the origin of the populations of linguistic tradition bantu towards
borders of Nigeria and Cameroun. Their migration towards the forest belt, accompanied by a development by
metallurgy, would have been carried out according to four directions and at times going of thousand-year-old IIIe
before the Christian era until the end of the XIX' century. The advance of the third phase corresponds besides
rather well with that proposed, inter alia, by Richard Oslisly and Bernard Peyrot "in their note on the arrival of the
first metallurgists on Ogooué. That of the fourth, most recent, merges with the migrations fang and kota of the
In the current state of our knowledge and as we higher saw for the provisioning of copper, it appears
quite difficult to rather privilege an origin among the influences than another. Metallurgical hearths of Katanga and
of Niari, with the full diffusion of their production, had certainly a role determining in the particular interest of
Kota for copper. But the influences soudano-Egyptian woman and Nigerian cannot be neglected and could have
them role, at least at certain times. If one takes into account space and the time over which the migration of Kota
was held as well as the complexity of the exchanges which existed since many centuries, one is obliged
to admit a multiplicity of the influences. A fine analysis of the origin of coppers decorating the figures would bring
to be more precise brief replies.
PROBLEM Of the EVOLUTION OF The STYLES
Then, if in the current state of research, it is quite difficult to specify when and where was born art kota, can one
despite everything to try to include/understand how it evolved/moved to arrive from there at these sculptures at the
so pure style and also thus completed what with the organization which typology lets guess that we outlined?
Among all the models of figures of reliquary that we currently know, we do not have practically any element which
makes it possible to go back them to precise way. Questions come immediately to mind: initially, various forms
known in the collections of the whole world and of which we tried to outline a typology, represent the totality of
the funerary art which one can attach to the populations kota? Were not there already forgotten more antiquated
forms at the XIXe century or which would have escaped with the collections? It is difficult to know it now. Then,
diversification various types is it very spread out in time, therefore throughout the migration? If such is the case,
that would tend to prove that the various components of the kota group have a common history; they were already
gathered for a long time and migrated together. One would explain badly differently how the various styles of this
art with so obvious common points could have been born in a way scattered not to meet at the end of the migration
like that, by chance. Ultimately, three principal assumptions are possible:
1. The various ethniques sub-groups have a history completely separated during the last millenium. Theirs
ways meet at the end of the migration. It would be the starting point of the birth and a fast evolution of
art kota in the forms that we currently know to him. This art would be thus relatively recent and would not be
not former to the XVIII' century.
2. The various ethniques sub-groups have a common history and traditions for a long time (beyond
three or four centuries). Their artistic culture is old and they migrated, often in concert, while keeping
each one their own specificities.
3. One of the ethniques groups has developed an original style for several centuries. This style, with the liking of
the migrations and later meetings, is adopted with modifications by other people.
The study of the relation of the forms, ones compared to the others, indications of origin of the objects when they
are perhaps reliable, go, while trying to compare them with the great directions displacement of the various groups
ethniques, to allow to see there a little more clearly: We showed higher than one could, roughly speaking, make
to correspond rather well various groups of figures with certain ethnos groups:
- group 1 with Mahongwé.
- groups 2 and 3b with Shamaye.
- the remainder of group 3 and groups it 4 with all the ethniques sub-groups of the south.
- group 5 with Masango.
If it is not difficult to perceive the relations which exist between the various types that we distinguished with the
centre group 3 for example, it is perhaps less obvious to define those which can exist between groups as well as
feel evolutions. We will try to propose a possible evolutionary diagram: Majority of the experts
agree to regard the mahongwé style as being most abstract and purest and, as it is often the case
in the field of art, the precursory style which could have inspired by other more sophisticated forms and more
diversified. We share this point of view with, at least, some nuances. We would say rather than, with
group 2, it is one of the first bus the irrefutable chronological evidence miss. But, even if two diagrams
evolutionary seem possible, this position of anteriority of mahongwé art appears confirmed by the use
systematic of the copper wire flattened in decoration, practical traditional and old in central Africa.
We will underline immediately certain characters which present analogies between this group 1 of Mahongwé
and groups it 2 of Shamaye. This one sees appearing, more or less timidly, the side cap. The face remains
prevalent (in spite of its reduced size) especially for the sub-group 2b where the side cap is reduced to its the
simpler expression. The chignon is preserved for the sub-group 2a in the form of a small wrapped vertical roll of
wire of copper. The rhombus marks its difference compared to that of Mahongwé and takes shape at Shamaye in
plan of the face; but it still keeps the round and ovoid forms of them. With the back also, certain figures of
reliquary of the 2a group preserve the double or triple ribs longitudinal frequent with the back of bwété mahongwé.
The relations stylistics are thus obvious between the two groups but it is more delicate to specify in which direction
the evolution took place. It is now interesting to compare this group 2 (especially the 2a) with the other Figures
shamayc that we classified in group 3 (3b); it appears indeed normal to seek the evolutions which have
been able to start within the same ethnique sub-group which, underline it, show an air of family pronounced well
with its spindle-shaped face, nose in lengthened edge, the rather reduced side cap and the rhombus with the
round forms. What fact the essential difference, it is the appearance of the crescent which of a small "cheeck"
becomes, according to models', moreover in broader, increasingly enveloping, character which we will find in a
systematic way in all them figures of reliquary of group 3.
From this starter of differentiation observed at Shamaye. general characteristics of group 3
will be taken again by the clans of the south which will bring a personal key to them: ovoid face with blades of
Copper in cross and decoration plate for the figures of reliquary treated flat, rhombus which takes its form
definitively frankly geometrical. We can say that it is in this group 3 that one attends a true explosion of
creativity on several levels:
- the diversity of the types due to the variations of forms of the crescent.
- "schools" printing of the quite particular styles in the way, in particular, of carrying out the faces and the caps
side (Shamaye, Kota of the south and more tardily, the school of Otala).
- richness of the modes of expression by the work of the object flat, out of half-round file bump or round bump
Afterwards the dash given by Shamaye. they are the men of the south who really seem to have played a part
determining in this expansion of styles since it is in their centre that develops style 4. known as "traditional"
appearing to be, by the stability and the balance of its forms, the result of art kota.
N word for the group 5 which in our opinion, by the progressive reduction of the size of the face, the absence of
caps side and of crescent, could derive well from the 2b group. This style corresponds it to an artistic taste precise
good or is it, actually and in a more pragmatic way, only the expression of a cruel difficulty of getting copper?
This evolution was not linear since one could observe mbulu-ngulu of all the styles be still used for
worship at the beginning of the XX' century: each stylistic tendency continued to survive, good liking badly liking,
with differentiations who took place. That appears logical insofar as each tendency were identified with clans or
sub-groups ethniques which was to make a point of making perdurer their marks disunctives. It is difficult, on the
other hand, to specify with which times occurred the evolutions: they were very circumscribed in time or, on the
contrary, are they spread out over several centuries? It is sure, like very precisely points out it J Germain,
that: the totality of the styles/.../was already represented in the medium of the XIX' century. How long it had been
necessary so that did this stylistic evolution reach its apogee? In the absence of any chronology as well specifies in
what relate to the objects that with regard to the history of these people, it is difficult to answer. Ten
generations appears a minimum to us to cover all the stages of this explosion of the styles. That would make go up
with end of the XVII' century, at one time when the contemporary ancestors of Kota were to be some share towards
north of the cx-Zaire. between Udé and the Sangria. The multiplicity of the trade flows made that throughout their
peregrination, Kota could satisfy their requirement out of copper. Jacques Kerchache points out (African art, pp.
490-491): the African three-dimensional sculpture appeared with the sedentarisation [... ] everywhere where the
man moves [... ] three-dimensional sculpture N ' does not exist. Consequently, the origin of the groups stylistics 1
and 2 of which the invoice is almost exclusively two-dimensional should correspond at the time of the great Kota
migrations and probably to go up at a few centuries. That would also mean that the stylistic explosion of group 3.
with the appearance of volume in the treatment of the forms, could have occurred only with the relative stabilization
of various clans after their arrival in the neighbourhoods of the XVIII- century in trimmings of current Gabon.
In addition, while arriving at the end of this reflexion on the evolution of art kota. we have the feeling that them
Shamaye played an essential part. All seems to have diversified around the style 2a which carries in him the whole
of germs of art kota. The evolution started within the ethnos group starting from the style 2a by giving a style to
face reduced, without cap (2b) and by seeing the appearance and the development of the crescent (3b group).
The sister countries are inspired by these models to their manner:
- By reducing it to the maximum at Masango
- While exploding creativity at the more populations of the south.
- Mahongwé remaining faithful to their style pure and stripped to the maximum. The latter were certainly in the
beginning of this stylistic evolution which should not have been quite different from the diagram attached (cf pi. 6
and 7) and which agrees enough well with the current geographical establishments.
At the end of this test on the funerary art of Kota, we realize that, as it is very often the case more of
problems are raised that one cannot solve some. This reflexion however made it possible to develop some ideas
on two principal points: the typology and stylistic evolution of the various categories of figures of reliquary in
relationship to the various ethniques groups concerned. Beyond the large variety of the forms, we proposed
a typology which shows that each figure falls under a precise diagram, evolutionary and coherent which
attaches it in first place with a ethnique group but also, probably, with a role particular to the level cultuel
Unfortunately we could not elucidate this relation between the type of figure (its mode of treatment, it
development of the crescent for example) and the rite. It appears doubtful that it is still realizable by an
investigation, even thorough, carried out on the ground.
- problems dependent at the origin of this art and, consequently, on that of the various populations constituting it
group kota, cannot dissociate from that of the copper which is one of the major characteristics of the figure of
reliquary kota. It is undeniable that, at the time of the very last centuries, the copper and the brass of European
importation which these regions flooded were largely useful. But copper very widespread and was already
appreciated in central Africa well before the arrival of Europeans and the Africans the latter did not wait to make
use artistically of it metal. The funerary art of Kota occurred in this context. Copper and brass of indigenous and
old origin having been used, it seemed important to examine the various possible sources quickly of them
of provisioning. They are rather well circumscribed and extremely dispersed, but as it arises that the currents
exchanges were many and complex in Black Africa, it is not possible, without systematic analyses, of
to privilege an origin rather than another: the four sources which we mentioned had to bring them
contribution. It however appears probable that the copper of Niari occupied a dominating place, even there are
several centuries, because the shopping streets that it followed could meet the migratory route of Kota well
before these the last are not fixed on their current positions. The mean reference marks which we tried to
release allow to propose the following diagram:
- the funerary art kota probably occurs between Xe century, time as from which the use of
copper local develops, and the XVS century A.D., date of arrival of the first Europeans on the coasts of Africa
black in an environment where copper is already a symbol of richness, being able and prestige, and where it is
useful also to honour deaths.
- Mahongwé are probably at the origin of this art, the very stripped style which they develop being in the pure
one tradition of the technique of decoration by means of copper wire, very in vogue in Africa précoloniale.
- the evolution which emerges with group 2 of the reliquaries then the stylistic explosion of group 3, could mark it
bringing together, starting from the XVIIe century, other ethnos groups of mobility kota: taking as a starting point
the the mahongwé style, they him bring their personal key and, perhaps, a new impulse. The contribution of the
copper and the brass of origin European in the form of plates evolve/move the technique of covering of the
figure makes it possible to make and give up gradually hard assembly of metal wire. The development of the
treatment in relief as well as perhaps certain styles "baroques" appear at the time when these ethniques groups
start to be fixed on their current territories starting from the XVIII' century.
- As of second half of the XIX' century, when Europeans penetrate for the first time in the country kota,
the stylistic evolution solidifies, unless it did not already start to be blown recently.
To specify in time the various stages of this evolution seems difficult. Ethnological research by
investigations into the ground are likely to have exhausted all theirs possibilities. Research of the archaeological
type is also likely to be hazardous in an environment difficult naturalness. The study of copper could be one of
the rare ways of still possible research: fine analysis and systematic of the composition of the metal of the old
figures, comparison with the analyses of other coppers perhaps of African or different origin, would allow to
better determine the times and the zones of provisioning. Us let us hope that will be undertaken one day.
29 Nam (V), an image of invisible - Lesfigures of reliquary kota. Turns, 1999.
30 See, for example, Pappenglûck (Michael A.), Eine himmelskarte aus DER eisieit? - Ein beitrag zur
urgeschichte DER himmelskunde und zur palâoastronomischen methodik. Peter Lang GMBH, 1999.
31 the spirit of lajorêt - Grounds of Gabon (under the direction of L Perrois), catalogues exposure of the
Museum of Aquitaine, 1997.
32 Biton (RP Alexandre), Dictionary ffdumu - Mbede - French, PetiteJlore of the area of Franceville - Grammar
Ndumu • Mbede. Archbishop's palace of Libreville, Mission of Moanda, 1969.
33 In its book, Oral traditions and files with Gabon, this author precise: "copper, in the beginning, was extracted
from one large hole meadows of Mined on high Djidji (Dilo) F... L It is the first allusion which I met with an
extraction of copper ore ".
34 Horn, C$op cit. pp. 143 and 250.
35 Ashira (according to the English consonance), spelled Eshira, ethnos group of the west of Gabon.
36 Herbert (Eugenia), Red Gold qfAJrica - Copper in precolonial histoiy and culture, Madison, University of
Wisconsin Press, 1984.
37Grébénart (Danilo), the origins of the metallurgy in Africa ocdden-bruises, 1988, p. 78. This author adds: "
The social importance of copper increases as one moves towards the south ".
38 Herbert, C$op cit. p. 242.
39 Collomb (Gerard), Metallurgy of copper and circulation of the goods in Gabon précolonial, Objects and
Worlds, volume 18, fasc. 1-2, 1978, pp. 59-68.
40 cf. the catalogue of exposure the way of the ancestors, 1986, pp. 56-60.
41 Deschamps (Hubert), general History of the Black Africa, PUF, 1970.
42 To consult, for example: Avery (Donald), Schmidt (Peter), A metalurgical study of tea bloomery, particulary
have practiced in Buhaya, Newspaper of Metals, Oct.. 1979, pp. 14-20. Schmidt (P.), Avery (D.), Complex iron
smetnng and prehistoric culture in Tanzania, Science, American Ass. for tea Advancement of Science, vol. 201,
1978, pp. 1085- 1089; More obviousness for year advanced prehistoric iron techndogy in Africa, Newspaper
ofFieUArchaeology, vol. 10, 1983, pp. 421-434.
43 Herbert, C$op cit. p. 155.
44 Oslisry (Richard), Peyrot (Bernard), the arrival of the first metallurgists on Ogcoué, Gabon, The Aflican
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We mentioned it above: the classifications worked out by our predecessors appear to have to be clarified, at least
for the figures which are not origin mahongwé or masango, i.e. for the majority of them. For this reason we tried to
think of the question. We would like to release "the good" morphological criteria allowing to include/understand if
there are relations between their various forms: can one recognize a certain unit there, controls or, on the contrary,
the figure of reliquaire it is conceived only according to the free inspiration of the artist starting from a starting
model transmitted by the tradition of a given clan?
For that, it was really necessary to impregnate subject and to try to visualize the maximum of objects. It was
unfortunately not possible for us to make the turn of the European museums of African art nor of the private
collections. With stronger reason, the collections existing on other continents proved to be inaccessible. We could
despite everything, to examine meadows of them a certain number. But, for the majority, we had to solve us to work
primarily according to images sometimes very good, sometimes of poor quality. We are perfectly conscious of the
insufficiencies of the process. However, we, partly at least, compensated for that by scannant the recovered images
and by filing them on machine readable medium, which allowed
to handle the images effectively and especially quickly. We constituted a data base on the figures of reliquaire
associating the information (alas, too often quite thin!) and the images most characteristic of each part. The
enormous advantage which the modern technique offers compared to the means of our predecessors, it is to view
the images in a turn of hand and to compare them, Trier with a not very possible ease still a few years ago. To
date, we thus could put in card meadows of a thousand of parts and the search continues. It thus appeared very
quickly that we for some time have a sample representative of art kota. Indeed, with each integration of an unknown
object of the file, it became obvious that it practically always formed part of an already existing model. Rare are
those which brought us has to modify so much is little classification. We hope for of course some innovations, some
parts énigmatiqucs but it is probable that they will not give basically causes already erected scaffolding typology of
|Fig. 8: high of drum with hand, fang, with cap pointing out the hairstyle of the
figures of reliquary kota. old collection Pierre War (photo AAN).