An Ambete shrine sculpture

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Category: SKU: DSC07596


An Ambete shrine sculpture, Gabon, the wooden body covered with metal sheets, on the back a rectangular cavity for ritual sacrification material, longlasting ritual use verified on the base of the wooden feet. The sculpture is more ore less in the original condition (the raffia shirt is new) and not polished like most of these metal sheeted figures.

The Ambete (Mbete, Mbede, Mbete and Mbeti) claiming a Kota origin 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 in a basket. Heads and busts were probably positioned on poles and placed in front of the chief’s house. They may have had an apotropaic and emblematic purpose. Instead, statues are provided with a dorsal, rectangular cavity, or the body itself may be in the shape of a reliquary chest. In this case, generally the head alone is sculpted in the round, the arms and lower extremities only roughly carved out.

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. The shoulders are thrown forward, the arms slightly bent. Frequently, the hairdo, composed of horizontal loops, is parted by a central crest. The relics could be set inside the statue. In this case the upper body of the statuette is particularly elongated and the back hollowed out with a box-shaped cavity accessible through a small door held in place with a thread. It is thought that this would hold the long bones of hunters who had played an important role in tribal life.

1200 – 1600,- Euro

Height: 61 cm
Weight: 3,6 kg

Additional information

Weight 3.6 kg