Lot 89
  • 89

Monumental Tsogho Male Ancestor Figure, Gabon

40,000 - 60,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • wood, snake vertebrae (unable to be identified)
  • Height: 25 1/8 in (63.8 cm)


Reportedly collected by a Belgian colonial officer in circa 1920, and by descent from the above
Michael Whitney, New York
Alan Steele, New York
Sotheby's, New York, November 16, 2001, lot 102, consigned by the above
Myron Kunin, Minneapolis, acquired at the above auction

Catalogue Note

Among the Tsogho of Central Gabon, as among the neighboring Kwele, the bwiti initiation society governs much of religious, social, and political life.  According to Perrois (2001: 80): “The material of the [bwiti] cult - the elements adorning sanctuaries, sculpted staffs, statues, masks, musical instruments - is rather diversified but has a very distinctly recognizable and homogeneous design, both in form as well as in color. Each color has a precise symbolic signification. Red, for example, is the symbol of the sacred and of life and is analogous to blood. White is the color of phantoms and of death.”

Like other Gabonese cultures - the Fang, the Kwele, and the Kota - the Tsogho sculpted guardian figures representing ancestors which were incorporated into reliquary boxes or bundles, as well as divination statuettes.  Another tradition among the Tsogho however, was the creation of ancestor figures of larger scale with a public function, like the present figure, which are today extremely rare.  According to Perrois (ibid.), the present figure is a "geongha or ghengoma effigy representing a male ancestor.  Such tall ancestors were carved to protect the village, and to mobilize the forces from the beyond to that effect.  One or more of these sculptures were usually fixed to the ground in the middle of the village court where they were visible to all.  They were also sometimes placed in the furthest part of the ebandza  temple in a niche at the side of the altar, [in a male and female pair] evoking the original couple of Nzambe-Kana and Disumba."  A female statue from such an ensemble is in the Brooklyn Museum (inv. no. "74.211.6").

Perrois continues (ibid.): “The face and torso of this statue are typical of the formal characteristics of the Tsogho style: an oval face defined by double-arched eyebrows carved in light relief in a heart shape pattern similar to a reverse omega, is also seen on Kwele masks.”

Exemplifying the sophisticated and highly prized abstract aesthetics of this hotbed of Central African plastic arts, the present Tsogho male ancestor figure exudes the ancestral authority of the masculin initiate.