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19th and 20th Century African Art: Reliquary Figure (byeri)

Identification

Figure from a Reliquary Ensemble: Seated Female, 19th–early 20th century, Fang peoples, Okak group, Gabon or Equatorial Guinea, wood, metal, 64 x 20 x 16.5 cm

Content

Because the Fang People were nomadic, it was important that the guardians of the ancient relics were portable. This is why the relics were not guarded in cemeteries. The figures closed eyes, but muscular body symbolized a strong yet calm spirit. The face and body are very much stylized, but the hair style was very popular at the time this figure was made. That makes this work is idealized/stylized.

Context

The Fang believe that the bones of important men and women retain power after death, providing protection and good fortune to an individual's descendants. The skull specifically was protected by these figures because the head is the most important part of the body for these people.

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Map Image

Works Cited/ Resources

Academy, Khan. “Fang Reliquary Figure.” Khan Academy, 18 July 2015.

Clark, Christa. “Female Figure from a Reliquary Ensemble (Fang Peoples).” Khan Academy, Khan Academy, 2006.

Form

These figures often time show bilateral symmetry, geometric shapes, elongated torso, large head, closed or metal eyes, clasped hands often hold an object, and an exaggerate belly button. 

Function

The Fang people believed that ancient relics held very strong spiritual powers.The reliquary figures were often as guardians of ancestral relics (bones and other materials in a container). They were also used during certain rituals for young men and were also devoted to the veneration of lineage ancestors and founders, leaders, and fertile women who made significant contributions to society during their lifetime.

Vocabulary

byeri - a figure or ensemble that will protect from the deceased and to recruit their aid in matters of daily life

Reliquary -  container for holy relics