Reliquary figure (nbulu ngulu)

19th–20th century

Dallas Museum of Art

Dallas Museum of Art
Dallas, United States

Although this figure is highly abstract, it represents an ancestor of the Kota people. Because Kota people believe that the strength and wisdom of their ancestors survive after death, they preserve their ancestors' skulls and certain bones in basket containers. This guardian figure, made of wood and covered with precious copper and brass, was attached to such a container. Notice the wide-open eyes in the simplified face, which suggests that the figure is a
vigilant guard.

Ancestors were contacted to ensure the well-being of individuals as well as the village, and in times of great distress all "mbulu ngulu" were brought together to combine the power of all of the important dead.


  • Title: Reliquary figure (nbulu ngulu)
  • Date Created: 19th–20th century
  • Physical Dimensions: Overall: 19 1/16 x 8 1/8 x 3 7/16 in. (48.4 x 20.65 x 8.7 cm)
  • Type: Sculpture
  • External Link: https://www.dma.org/object/artwork/5085131/
  • Medium: Wood, copper, brass, and iron
  • culture: Kota peoples
  • Credit Line: Dallas Museum of Art, The Gustave and Franyo Schindler Collection of African Sculpture, gift of the McDermott Foundation in honor of Eugene McDermott

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