There are several ethnic groups who live in Gabon (i.e. Fang, Kota, Punu, Mitsogo, and Mahongwe). This lovely reliquary is from the Kota people (or Bakota). These reliquaries, or Bakotas protect the relics of important clan ancestors, serving as guardians. Two-dimensional and sheathed in metal (brass or copper), the figures include projecting shapes around the face that refer to elaborate coiffures, possible scarification on the face, and a diamond shape below the neck that is an abstracted body form.
Old Bakota reliquary figures are very rare. Many were destroyed during the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century as Europeans converted the Kota to Christianity. This particular Bakota shows evidence of age and use in tribal customs; therefore, it was not made for tourists. Bakotas are often polished and kept shiny as a visual reminder of the honor and respect attributed to deceased ancestors, or as a representation of the wealth and prestige of the deceased ancestor. Often, family members would ask the Bakota various questions or for sage advice, just as one would question an oracle.
Figure: 35" tall x 14" wide