Reliquary standing figure
- Kota peoples, Mbete group
- 19th–20th century
This standing male figure is rendered in a semi-abstract manner. Facial features are limited to open eyes and a nose; the mouth—a thin line—is obscured under layers of pigment. Rows of blackened parallel lines form the hairstyle. The arms are carved close to the torso with the hands, carved in full relief, resting just above the onion-shaped belly. The legs form zigzags but with soft angles. Comparison with other Mbete figures of this type suggests that this one was once clothed in a raffia wrapper.
In contrast to their neighbors, the Mbete preserve the precious relics of their deceased leaders in hollowed standing figures. The relics were deposited through an opening at the back, which was sealed with a door, the hinges of which are knotted fibers. The figure was coated repeatedly with kaolin, the white color signifying the realm of ancestors, purity, peace, and healing.
- Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Learn more about Mbete reliquary figures.