Sculptural Element from a Reliquary Ensemble (mbulu ngulu)

Sculptural Element from a Reliquary Ensemble (mbulu ngulu)

probably 1800s

Wood, copper alloy, and iron

Overall: 61 x 27.5 x 3 cm (24 x 10 13/16 x 1 3/16 in.)

Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 2005.2


The ethnic map of eastern Gabon is extremely complicated as a result of continuous migratory movements since the 17th century. Kota is the name of one of three culturally closely related people. All share the tradition of commemorating and honoring ancestors through the preservation and worship of sacred ancestral relics within cylindrical bark containers or bound in fiber packets. Covered with sheets of copper and brass, this abstract wooden human-shaped figure—distilled to a planar surface—served as a guardian set atop a basket container holding the skull, certain bones, and other relics of a deceased man. It belonged to a religious institution that honored the memory of individuals who made major contributions during their lifetime. The luminosity of the copper and brass covering was considered intimidating and spiritually empowered to deflect harm and thus protect the owner and his family.

See also
African Art
African Art
Type of artwork: 

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