Reliquary guardian figure (mbumba bwiti)

late 19th or early 20th century

Dallas Museum of Art

Dallas Museum of Art
Dallas, United States

The Sango peoples practiced a funerary tradition similar to that of their neighbors, the Kota. Sango reliquaries, which were also protected by sculpted wood guardian figures covered with metal, were associated with individuals rather than lineages and were expected to ensure safe and productive travel and trade.(23) Kept in a special room in quarters belonging to the head of a family, they were present on occasions such as the end of mourning or at rituals concerning healing, hunting, or the search for evildoers.(24)

Reliquary guardian figures of this type typically have extremely stylized human heads with a high forehead. The arched brows, nose, and horizontal patterns represent scarification and are formed with metal; the staring eyes are made of bone. The ears are conceived as cylinders that project from the sides of the face. The Dallas figure is distinguished by a pair of barlike forms that extend downward beneath the ears as if to echo the shape of the "shoulders" of the lozenge-shaped body. The base of the figure would have been thrust into a reliquary made of beaten bark in which were preserved the ancestor's bones as well as magical ingredients such as shells, forest fruits, and various charms or amulets.(25)

The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art, cat. 70, pp. 202-203.


23. Siroto, Leon. East of the Atlantic, West of the Congo: Art from Equatorial Africa from the Dwight and Blossom Strong Collection. Edited by Kathleen Berrin. San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1995. p. 41, cat. no. 34.

24. Perrois, in Herreman, Frank, ed. Resonance from the Past: African Sculpture from the New Orleans Museum of Art. New York: Museum for African Art; New Orleans: New Orleans Museum of Art, 2005. p. 103, cat. no. 70.

25. Ibid.


  • Title: Reliquary guardian figure (mbumba bwiti)
  • Date Created: late 19th or early 20th century
  • Physical Dimensions: Overall: 11 3/8 x 3 1/2 x 3 9/32 in. (28.9 x 8.9 x 8.3 cm)
  • Type: Sculpture
  • External Link: https://www.dma.org/object/artwork/3125439/
  • Medium: Wood, brass, and bone
  • 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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