Fang Reliquary Figure – Gabon

Fang Reliquary Figure

Region: Gabon

MATERIALS: Wood carving, natural earth patina
DIMENSIONS: H:18.59 x W:6.6 x L:6.5 in.
DESCRIPTION: Ancestral Spirit revered as person transitions from this life. Used in family worship. Power figure.

The noble people that are called the “Fang” are located in a geographic region of Africa which is quite humid, accompanied with heavy rainfall, providing the backdrop for these originally nomadic people (some 900,000 strong), who were hunters and agrarian farmers. In this large landscape, a great rain forest, that now encompasses the countries of Equatorial Guinea, Northern Gabon, and the coast of the Eastern Cameroon, positioned on the right bank of the Ogowe river, is now where they permanently settle. Their ancestors are worshipped, and are a very important source of guidance and pride for their descendants, who sustain their memory. Because of their initial migratorial nature due to the need to often move to different regions to farm and to nurture the land, a land of waterfalls, and rapids, their funerary rites for the honoring of the dead precluded their ability to provide final resting grounds for the ancestors. They developed the Byeri / Bieri (the ancestor) carving to honor and represent the deceased, which could accompany the family in their migrations across the land. This figure guarded the transportable shrine, a sanctuary container which could travel along with the moving peoples. Known as a Bieri, wooden mortuary figure of the Fang representing the spirit and guardian of the ancestor, which is placed atop an impressive cylindrical carved wooden bark box, called nsek-byeri, which contains the skull of the ancestor, which historically underlies the strength of the family grouping. It is carried along with the family from dwelling to dwelling. The migratory existence of the Fang prohibited the creation of ancestral shrines at gravesites. Instead, the remains of the important dead, in the form of the skull and other bones, were carried from place to place in a cylindrical bark box. This is necessitated also by their belief in reincarnation. This is a very powerful and important guardian exemplified by its powerful and strong stance, and the nkissi protruding attachment in its stomach, which houses potent remedial and healing / protective natural elements to be discharged when properly summoned by a religious diviner. Also further power and reinforcement is apparent in its fortified back structure, geometric in execution embedded with metal pins, as well as brass wrist, and ankle bands.

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