Ancestral guardian figure (bwiti), from container for ancestral bones

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from Gabon, Africa

Postcard of Ancestral guardian figure (bwiti), from container for ancestral bones.
© National Museums Scotland

Ancestral guardian figure (bwiti), from container for ancestral bones

This figure was used by the Kota people of Gabon to guard a basket in which the bones of prominent ancestors were kept. These sacred reliquaries were kept in special shrines, and the spirits of the ancestors would be called up during special ceremonies.

This ancestral spirit figure is in the form of a stylised head with dished face and elaborate hairstyle. Its upper body is shown as an openwork diamond shape. The bottom would have sat on top of the reliquary basket.

Reliquary boxes and baskets containing bones from important ancestors were used by various inhabitants of Gabon and nearby areas. The ancestors were consulted when their advice was needed, and various offerings were made.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-180-000-801-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0504: National Museums Scotland Part 2
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  A.1946.952
Date: Probably early 20th century
Material: Wood
Dimensions: 22.00" L x 11.00" W
What: Figure, ancestor
Subject: Miscellaneous
Where: Gabon
Description: Wooden ancestor figure, consisting of a concave ovoid representing the face, surmounted by lunar shaped flange and quadrantal wings to represent the coiffure, embellished with brass, zinc and copper
  • Phillips, T (ed). Africa: The Art of a Continent. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1995, 317. 
  • Sheridan, J A (ed). Heaven and Hell and Other Worlds of the Dead. Edinburgh: National Museum of Scotland, 2000. 
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