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Teke Fetish Male Figure Buti

Teke Fetish Male Figure Buti

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Teke people, mid. 20th century, Republic of the Congo, Central Africa.

Magnificent small-sized fetish figure (buti or butti) represents a particular ancestor and is believed to be composed of the substance of that ancestor (ikwii). Fascinating standing male figure is formed in classical Teke form, a large head, rectangular torso and a slightly bent crude legs with bulky feet. The front of the body a fetish bundle encased in a membrane. The wood and fetish covering with clay, resin, red tukula powder and entwined with cord and rattan. The face depicting an old man with almond-shaped eyes, wide flat nose, crescent-shaped large ears, open mouth and a typical cap-like headdress. 

These small fetish figures were individually owned (communal fetishes are larger) and were used for protection against witchcraft, prevent or cure illnesses, for acquiring power and to direct vengeance. Fetishes such as this one gain special power by the addition of magical material (bonga or bilongo), placed in a cavity in the body or encased in a clay or cloth sack enclosing most of the body. The bonga is composed of various materials, but one of the main ingredients is whitish clay (mpieme), which represents the bones of ancestor, thus conveying protective power. Often mixed with the nail clippings or the hair of a venerated person, with leaves of specific plants, various parts of snakes or leopards, etc. Each figure has its own specific purpose, known only to its owner. If a fetish successfully demonstrates its power, its owner may detach bonga, break it into several pieces and insert fragments into new figures to be sold to other families, leaving the original statue bloodless, with an emaciated body. The figures with bonga are called Buti, without medicinal charge they are powerless and called Tege.

The Teke or Bateke belong to the Bantu peoples. They live predominantly on the savannah-covered high plateau in the border region of the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Gabon. Their cosmology knows beside the real world an invisible parallel universe over which the creator Nziam rules. They assume that their souls are resurrected there. The veneration of the ancestors and the nature spirits, who were to be favorably tuned by prayers and sacrifices, played a central role in the everyday life of the Teke.

Excellent condition. Layered and encrusted surface patina suggesting genuine age and ritual use. Traces of libation. Size approx. 19,5cm x 5,3cm x 5,9cm. 

Provenance: From the estate of a Swedish painter and pop artist Sven Inge Höglund (1935-2008). Foundation for Innovative Art.

References and further reading:

Teke Fetishes, Robert Hottot & Frank Willett, The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 86, no. 1, 1956, pp. 25-36. (

The Tribal Arts of Africa, Jean-Baptiste Bacquart, Thames & Hudson, 2002.

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