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Superb Kota Reliquary Figure
19th – early 20th Century
A. Roth, Basel, Switzerland
Wood, brass sheet, copper nails and -clamps
High 40 cm. Gabon
Superb Kota Reliquary Figure, this superb mbulu ngulu with elegant proportions and fine details, rises from a pierced diamond base which supports a cylindrical neck beneath an expansive elliptical head with domed over-arching forehead made of copper and brass above domed eyes inset with metal pupils and small projecting nose over a faint smiling mouth, flanked by curved rectangular flanges and crescent above; fine aged, dark brown patina.
This unique sculpture among African forms was used to protect and demarcate the revered bones of ancestors. The bones were stored in containers and the mbulu ngulu rested atop this bundle, bound to it at the figure lozenge-shaped base. Within the Kota society, it is believed that the figurative form of the mbulu ngulu communicated the reliquary’s intense power.
The Kota used to fix these stylized head sculptures on top of boxes containing the skulls and bones of important ancestors. They should protect the valuable contents. Housed on a shelf outside the village, the figure was carefully polished with sand to maintain its shining surface which should keep sorcerers away.
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