african masksGabon
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A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden

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GabonGabon tribes map. Fang, Kota, Punu, Mitsogo, Mahongwe Art

Gabon tribes. Fang, Kota, Punu, Mitsogo, Mahongwe

Punu

Although not much is known about the history of the Punu, linguistic evidence suggests that they moved into their current location from an area to the north,

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Some of this info found on http://www.uiowa.edu/~africart/toc/people/Kota.html

possibly driven southward by the Kota and Fang who moved into the area just north of Punu territory in recent centuries. This area had been occupied by various Pygmy peoples prior to Bantu expansion. Punu art forms suggest a connection with their neighbors that may have emerged from a shared history or simply through contact.

Similarly to their neighbors to the north, the Fang and Kota, the Punu carve wooden reliquary figures which are stylistically different, but similarly attached to a basket carrying the bones of individual family ancestors. This seems to indicate a similarity in religious practices in regard to ancestor worship. There is also an abundance of female masks in this area. Several reports from early travelers in this area link those masks to the Mukui society, about which very little is known. Other reports link them to dances celebrating the female ancestors of the Punu peoples.

BakotaKota 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. 
Bakota from my mothers collection
See a detailed list of Gabon tribes

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 a 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.

The peoples throughout this region of Gabon share similar political systems. Each village has a leader who has inherited his position based on his relationship to the founding family of that village. As a political leader, he often serves as an arbitrator and is equally recognized as a ritual specialist. This enables him to justify his position of power based on his relationship with the ancestors of the village. Each village consists of bark houses in arranged in a balanced pattern along straight streets, and the size of the village is often determined by the resources available. 
Religion: 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, thus there is no apparent contradiction to individuals selling what in effect was the tombstone of their ancestors for considerable profit to art dealers. During migrations the relics were brought along, but the reliquaries were often left behind. 

Fang The traditional religion of Fang centered around ancestors who are believed to wield power in the afterlife as they did as living leaders of the community. The skulls and long bones of these men were believed to retain power and to have control over the well-being of the family. Usually the relics were kept hidden away from the uninitiated and women. Wooden sculptures, known as reliquary guardian figures, were attached to the boxes containing the bones. Some believe that the figures are an abstract portrait of the deceased individual, while others argue that they serve 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, thus there is no apparent contradiction in individuals selling what in effect was the tombstone of their ancestors for considerable profit to art dealers. During migrations the relics were brought along, but the reliquaries were often left behind.
read also Fang and Kota, the Great Sculptural traditions of Equatorial Africa.
Read also on the internet the following article about Kwele masks: 

http://www.tribalarts.com/feature/kwele/index.html 

Mukuyé Punu

Punu Mukuye mask sold for 617142 eurosLot n° 19 :  sold for 617 142 €  10/06/2004 Calmels Cohen, Paris
Arts Primitifs

Mukuyé, Punu mask- Gabon
High: 26 cm

Bois mi-dur, pigments
Accidents d’usage

Masque Mukuyé, Punu
Gabon Hauteur : 26 cm ( 10 1/4 in.)

need a translator ?

Provenance :
- Sir Kenneth Clark, the Hon, Saltwood Castle, Kent, acquis au milieu du 19è siècle
- Alan Clark, vente Sotheby’s, Londres, 12 juillet 1977, n° 161
- Ancienne collection Hubert Goldet, vente Ricqlès, Paris, 30 juin - 1er juillet 2001, n° 278, reproduit

Exposition :
- Art of Primitive Peoples, Berkeley Galleries, juin-juillet 1945, n° 43
- Masterpieces of the People’s republic of the Congo, New York, The African-American Institute, 25 septembre 1980 - 24 janvier 1981, p.38, n° 44
- Africa-Capolavori da un continente, Turin, Galleria d’Arte Moderna, 2 octobre 2003 - 15 février 2004, p. 237, fig. 3.73

Bibliographie :
- Louis Perrois, Arts du Gabon, Editions Arts d’Afrique Noire, 1979, n° 262
- L’Œil, n° 321, avril 1982, article d’André Fourquet, Chefs-d’œuvre de l’Afrique : Les masques Pounou, p.56, n° 7
- Statuaire de l’Afrique noire, ABC Collection, numéro hors-série, janvier 1979, p.59
- Ezio Bassani, Africa-Capolavori da un continente, Artificio Skira, 2003, p. 237, fig. 3.73


Visage féminin peint au kaolin, orné au front et aux tempes de scarifications losangées rehaussées, comme la bouche, de rouge de padouk. La coiffe peignée, composée de deux chignons et de deux couettes latérales, est noircie au feu. Elle est délimitée à l’avers par un fin bandeau ocre rouge épousant le galbe frontal prenant naissance à l’arrière des oreilles en demi-lune, et au revers par la gorge de fixation de parure qu’elle surplombe en bec de perroquet. Deux trous de fixation traversent la collerette. Belle taille interne à l’herminette dessinant un burelage dans le bois.
Ce masque réunit tous les canons du grand style Punu des masques blancs : haute coiffe laquée noir au nattage curviligne, front bombé, scarifications en écailles de poisson, parfait équilibre des traits ciselés dans le bois, manifeste tant dans les sourcils et les yeux fendus que dans la bouche et le nez délicats. Le regard filtrant confère au masque une apparence de mystère et de forte intériorité.
Ce type de masque, utilisé lors des cérémonies de deuil, évoque l’âme d’une jeune fille. Le blanc est, dans les croyances gabonaises, la couleur de la réincarnation. Aussi, les premiers Occidentaux arrivés dans ces régions furent-ils pris pour des revenants.
Le danseur caché par un ample costume était souvent monté sur des échasses, armé d’un fouet et d’une machette.
Le masque pouvait, selon les rituels, se montrer menaçant et faire fuir l’assistance ; dans d’autres cas, il déchaînait au contraire l’hilarité du public.
Présent déjà au 19e siècle dans les collections du Saltwood Castle (cf. : vente Sotheby’s, Londres, 12 juillet 1977), ce masque est d’une grande ancienneté, ce qu’attestent de nombreux détails.
 

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