Fang Reliquary Figure
Fang Reliquary Figure Region: Gabon
MATERIALS: Wood carving, natural earth patina DIMENSIONS: H: 18.59 x W: 6.6 x L: 6.5 in.
Immerse yourself in the profound world of the Fang Reliquary Figure, a testament to the rich cultural tapestry of the Fang people in the lush and humid regions of Equatorial Guinea, Northern Gabon, and the coast of Eastern Cameroon. This wooden carving, adorned with natural earth patina, stands at the dimensions of H: 18.59 x W: 6.6 x L: 6.5 inches, offering a glimpse into the spiritual practices and nomadic history of a people numbering around 900,000.
The Fang, originally nomadic hunters and agrarian farmers, navigate the vast rainforest that blankets their geographical landscape. Situated along the right bank of the Ogowe River, they have transitioned from a migratory existence to permanent settlement in this region characterized by heavy rainfall. In their profound connection to the land, the Fang people revere their ancestors as a source of guidance and pride, upholding their memory through rituals and artifacts.
The Fang Reliquary Figure, a manifestation of ancestral spirit, plays a crucial role in the transitional phase of an individual from this life. It serves as a potent symbol in family worship, embodying the spiritual essence that transcends the mortal realm. This power figure stands as a guardian, revered and cherished by the Fang community.
The migratory history of the Fang, marked by the need to move across different regions for farming and nurturing the land, posed challenges to traditional funerary rites. Unlike settled communities with permanent resting grounds for ancestors, the Fang developed the Byeri/Bieri carving—a homage to the deceased that could accompany families in their nomadic journeys. The Bieri, a wooden mortuary figure, is placed atop an intricately carved cylindrical wooden bark box, known as nsek-byeri. This container holds the skull of the ancestor, symbolizing the enduring strength of the family grouping.
The cyclical nature of Fang life and their belief in reincarnation compelled them to carry the remains of important deceased members, primarily the skull and other bones, in the portable bark box. This nomadic existence necessitated a mobile shrine, and the Bieri served as the guardian spirit that watched over and protected this sacred vessel during the family’s migrations.
The Fang Reliquary Figure is a powerful guardian with a commanding stance. Notable features include the nkissi protruding attachment in its stomach—an enclave housing potent remedial and protective natural elements. When summoned by a religious diviner, these elements are believed to unleash their healing and protective powers. The figure’s back structure, fortified with geometric precision and embedded with metal pins, reflects an additional layer of strength and symbolism. Brass wrist and ankle bands further accentuate the figure’s potency, showcasing the meticulous craftsmanship that went into its creation.
This relic is not merely a wooden carving; it is a living testament to the intricate beliefs, practices, and resilience of the Fang people. It invites us to explore the convergence of spirituality, artistry, and nomadic life, providing a window into a culture that carries its ancestors’ wisdom in every carved line and patina. As we delve into the details of the Fang Reliquary Figure, we embark on a journey through time and tradition, where art becomes a vessel for preserving the essence of a people and their enduring connection to the spiritual realm.