Bwiti Janus Reliquary Guardian Figure

Classic, rare janus double-sided reliquary figures are depicted with beautiful patina and different colored textures of the metal. Objects such as this one were guardians of the deceased and were attached to a basket, which contained the bones and remains of important ancestors. This reliquary is a beautiful example of a two-dimensional art form. Shallow-layered metal is interrupted by a projecting nose and eyes. The concave surface of the face gives the mask  depth.

The MaHongwe people have links and traditions that descend from the neighboring Kota people but are themselves divided into subgroups, most notably the Bushamaye and the Bashake people, who also produce reliquaries of their own styles. The MaHongwe reliquary was placed over a basket containing the relics of their ancestors; the ancestral cult was called Bwiti, and these types of baskets were preserved in temples within the village compound. These reliquaries often had two figures on the top, one larger than the other, sizes varied from 50 cm  high to 20 cm high for the smaller of the two. Janus reliquary figures are very rare and important because of its Janus style with two-sided figures, one to  represent the founder of the lineage and the reverse side to represent their ancestral descendants.

Provenance: Collected in 1948 by a Belgium ivory merchant and later sold to and published in an exhibit by professor J. Putteneers of Antwerp, Belgium.

Mid to late 19th century
Wood, copper-metal
21 x 8 x 4 in
53 x 20 x 10 cm
MaHongwe people; Northeast region of Gabon, near the Congo border