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Reliquary Guardian Figure (Mbulu Ngulu)

Arts of Africa

The Kota once used reliquary guardian figures (mbulu ngulu) to protect and demarcate the revered bones of family ancestors. The bones were preserved in containers made of bark or basketry. The mbulu ngulu stood atop this bundle, bound to it at the figure’s lozenge-shaped base. It is thought that the figurative form of the mbulu ngulu was intended to reinforce and communicate the reliquary’s intense power. Kota mbulu ngulu are unique among African sculptural forms in their combination of wood and hammered metal.
MEDIUM Wood, copper, brass
  • Place Made: Gabon
  • DATES late 19th century
    DIMENSIONS 20 1/4 x 8 3/4 x 2 1/4in. (51.4 x 22.2 x 5.7cm)  (show scale)
    COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
    ACCESSION NUMBER 1989.51.2
    CREDIT LINE The Adolph and Esther D. Gottlieb Collection
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Kota reliquary figure known as Bwiti. Carved wood covered with copper and brass metal strips, engraved with geometric patterns. Concave, oval-shaped face bisected with two broad metal strips; remainder of the face covered with horizontally placed narrow metal strips. Almond-shaped eyes, nail heads as pupils. Nose, pointed dihedral shape; no mouth. "Extended elephant ears" with pendant earring of engraved metal strips. Crescent-shaped headdress, engraved along outer edge. Neck covered wtih single metal strip, engraved. Diamond-shaped lower portion of sculpture, top half covered wtih metal strip, lower portion wood left uncovered. CONDITION: Bottom of wood base damaged, some portions rotted away.
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CAPTION Kota. Reliquary Guardian Figure (Mbulu Ngulu), late 19th century. Wood, copper, brass, 20 1/4 x 8 3/4 x 2 1/4in. (51.4 x 22.2 x 5.7cm). Brooklyn Museum, The Adolph and Esther D. Gottlieb Collection, 1989.51.2. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1989.51.2_PS2.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 1989.51.2_PS2.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2007
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    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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