Guardian Figure (Mbulu Ngulu)


Guardian Figure (Mbulu Ngulu)

– Kota Mbulu Ngulu is unique among African

sculptural forms in their combination of wood and hammered metal.

Rare Collectable

Dimensions (H) 43cm (W) 12cm (D) 9cm

In stock


Guardian Figure (Mbulu Ngulu)

The Kota Tribe from Gabon 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.

The reliquary figures of the Kota may be distinguished from their neighbors by the copper overlay on them.

Some masks are found in collections, but these are extremely rare.

Other utilitarian objects, such as pots, baskets, stools, and knives were often decorated with delicate patterns.

The traditional religion of Kota centered around ancestors who are believed to wield power in the afterlife as they had as living leaders of the community.

The skulls and long bones of these men were believed to retain power and are said to have control over the well-being of the family of the relics’ keepers.

Usually, the relics were kept hidden away from the uninitiated and women.

Wooden sculptures covered with sheets of copper and brass, known as reliquary or guardian figures, were attached to the baskets containing the bones.

Some believe that the figures are an abstract portrait of the deceased individual, while others argue that they are merely to protect the spirit of the deceased from evil.

It must be remembered, however, that it was the bones themselves that were sacred, not the wooden figures.

The Kota arrived in their current location after completing a series of migrations that started to the northeast, possibly near Sudan.

These migrations began in the 18th century and were underway when European contact was first made about 150 years later.

Unlike the Fang, their neighbors to the east, the Kota were peaceful people who preferred to pick up and move rather than engage in warfare.

European references dating to the 1870s identify the Kota in their modern homeland.

Christian missionaries who entered the area in the early 1900s converted many of the Kota peoples.

As a result, many of the art objects associated with their traditional religion were destroyed, buried, or in some cases thrown down wells.

Since the 1930s efforts have been made by Europeans to locate these discarded objects, which have been divested of power, and remove them to Western museums.

Often the Kota dig them up themselves and sell them for profit.

They have become icons of World art.

No two figures are entirely identical, but the tradition conforms to certain basic elements in a symmetrical design.

African art offered modernist abstraction and gave an important impulse to the 20th century abstract art movement in Europe.

Artists who discovered the possibilities were excited by the aesthetic solution.

Pablo Picasso owned two Kota reliquary figures in his collection, which inspired him to create the painting “Le Demoiselles d’Avignon”.

Cubism resulted out of this influence.

Artists who made use out of it are Andre Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Henri Matisse to name just a few.

A bit more about the Kota Tribe of Gabon

The Bakota (or Kota) are a Bantu ethnic group from the northeastern region of Gabon. The language they speak is called iKota, but is sometimes referred to as Bakota, ikuta, Kota, and among the Fang, they are known as Mekora. The language has several dialects, which include: Ndambomo, Mahongwe, Ikota-la-hua, Sake, Menzambi, Bougom. Some of these dialects themselves include regional variations of some kind.

The Kota are traditionally a patriarchal society, however some of the sub-groups such as the Mahongwe have over time adopted a matrilineal system of lineage (Mahongwe means, “from your father”).

The true meaning of Bakota is unclear, however it may be derived from the word kota, which means to bind/to attach/to link, hereby suggesting they view themselves as a united people bound by a common fate.

Estimates indicate that there are at least 43,500 Kota speakers in the world, of whom 34,442 people (79%) live in the Ogouee-Ivindo province of northeastern Gabon, and 9055 people (21%) in neighboring Congo-Brazzaville.

They are noted for their copper and brass reliquary guardian figures, which are part of a powerful religious and mystical order known as Bwete. Another key feature of the Kota people is the originality of its circumcision and widow-purification rituals, which are generally kept secret.