Kota Obamba reliquary figure. Kota people, Gabon, 19th century.
Wood covered with copper plates.
- Private collection, France.
- Private collection, Spain.
Measurements: 42 cm.
This type of figures, carved in wood and covered with sheet metal, were used to guard the relics of ancestors. In this guardian, the meticulous work of the copper, chiseled and based on parallel lines that represent feathers or fabrics, is especially noteworthy. Also noteworthy is the expressiveness of the face, with large round, applied eyes.
The Kota or Bakota belong to the Bantu ethnic group, and come from the northeast of Gabon. It is a patriarchal society, although some subgroups are organized around a matrilineal lineage system. In the past, the Kota used to leave their dead exposed to the elements of the forest. Influenced by neighboring tribes, they began to bury their chiefs and then exhume their bones to place them with other objects charged with magical powers in boxes or baskets of bark, called bwété. The bwété were the central point of offerings and prayers intended to bring prosperity to the clan. On top of these, a sculpture with a stylized diamond-shaped body and a large head covered with copper leaves was placed. The back of the head was usually left in a rough state, but sometimes a geometric pattern is highlighted as in the present specimen. The most prominent features of this style, called Obamba, are the curved side extensions, the transverse crest attached to these side caps, the face blades radiating from the center of the oval on either side of the central plate, and the decorative motifs on the crest and neck.