Old Large Ambete (Mbete) Guardian Figure – Republic of Congo / Northern Gabon
Carved wood, cowries, kaolin, vegetable fibres. Trace of ritual use and remnants of sacrifications. Cm. 64,5 high (25.39″); grams 4.414,0 (9.73 lb).
Former Musee Primitif, Chem. de la Bastide Rouge, 06150 Cannes, France.
The Ambete (Mbete) live in the Republic of Congo near the northern frontier of Gabon and also in northern Gabon. In view of the shifting location of the peoples living in this region, it is impossible to retrace the precise history of the Mbete culture. Certain ethnological and sociological aspects of their life are relatively well known, and we know that the secret societies were numerous and powerful. The Ambete do not have any centralized political organization; they practice ancestor worship. They carved three types of sculpture: heads, busts and full figures.
The latter are thought to have a connection with the ancestor’s cult – they were either used as reliquaries or placed alongside ancestor bones. The faces of the Mbete statues show a prominent forehead overhanging a hollow receding face with a rectangular mouth and broadly carved features, so that the original tree-trunk form is still visible. The arms are often fixed to the body and the hands and feet barely discernible. Frequently, the hairdo, composed of horizontal loops, is parted by a central crest.
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