Fang Reliquary Container Byeri
Fang Reliquary Container Byeri
Fang people, mid. or late 20th century, Cameroon or Northern Gabon, Central Africa
Fascinating aged reliquary bark container with wooden figure, eyema-o-byeri (biyema biyeri), or nlo byeri, represent important Fang ancestor. Reliquary figures, such as this smaller one, were placed on top of bark containers that held the bones and skull fragments of revered clan ancestors, such as male founders of villages, and women with exceptional spiritual powers. The carved head or figure guards the sacred relics against the forbidden gaze of women and uninitiated boys. The container was kept by the eldest man (esa) in the family, and the figure would be consulted when the village was to change location, when was best time for the harvesting or before going to hunting, fishing, or war.
The Fang people are found in northern Gabon, southern Cameroon and the Rio Muni region in the Equatorial Guinea. The Fangs believe in the existence of a mighty and eternal god (called Mebe'e or Mebere) who is viewed as the creator of the known world. Mebe'e not only blew life into Earth, but also the creator of the first ancestor/ lesser god (called Ndzame or Sekome), who was fashioned from clay and whose form was first as a lizard. Mebe'e placed this lizard in the water for eight days, on the final day, the lizard gratefully emerged from water as a man. The Fang also believe that Mebe'e was once god with three different aspects: Ndzame, Mebe'e, and Nkwa. These three parts consulted with one another during the creation process and particularly in the creation of the first man. Under French colonial rule, Fangs converted to Christianity. After their independence their interest in their own religion (Bieri or Byeri), has returned. The Fang began assimilating aspects of Christianity and bieri into hybrid religion (called Bwiti). To achieve their mediation for solving the daily life obstacles, the Fangs practise the cult of the ancestors. They also maintain tribal cohesion through the So, Gil and Ngi societies.
Gorgeous old bark container with later attached, newer ancestor figure. Good condition. Age-related heavy wear and handling over many years. Lovely encrusted patina. Fractures, chip and cracks. Size approx. 51,0cm x 21,0cm x 20,0cm.
Provenance: Dutch private collection
References and further reading:
Eternal Ancestors: The Art of the Central African Reliquary, ed. Alisa LaGamma, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007.
Fang Religious Experience - Bwiti. An Ethnography of the Religious Imagination in Africa, J. W. Fernandez, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982.
Fang, 101lasttribes, (https://www.101lasttribes.com/tribes/fang.html)
A Masterwork That Sheds Tears... and Light: A Complementary Study of a Fang Ancestral Head, Roland Kaehr, UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center. 40, pp. 44–57 (https://www.jstor.org/stable/i20447849)
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