Antelope hide, Kapok wood, rattan, pigments
Late 19th to early 20th century
Provenance : Max Lanci, Paris
While Fang reliquary boxes with a figure or a head atop are well known, the present type is much less. According to Fernand Grébert (in "Au Gabon", Société des missions évangéliques de Paris, 1922, p.152), "the skull (of the deceased) was buried, little by little cleaned by ants and constituted the Byeri, protector of the household [...] "Then they take banana leaves, chilly, bark from different trees and cook these all together and fill the skull with. Then a chicken is killed and the blood is applied all over the skull. Bullets are fired next to the skull to cover it with smoke. Finally this precious object is put in a box made of a certain antelope called "Nzoule". Every two months approximately, the skull is taken out and covered again with chicken blood and a special oil from a palm tree. This is the correct way to honor this fetish, otherwise it can be deadly [...] To conserve the "byeri" a large bark box is then made [the final biery with a guardian reliquary figure or head].
We thus form the hypothesis that the present box is the "pre-reliquary" box aformentioned by Grébert.
Made of antelope skin, the top and bottom of the box are made of Kapok tree. The stitching is made with rattan. Two holes are made for hide attachments (still present in the box) that once were joining the lid and the box.
On the lid, typical Fang motives are depicted, similar to those that can be found in particular of Fang torques (see image from Tessmann, "Die Pangwe", 1913). On the bottom, motives such as those found on body scarifications or Fang swords, are carved (see other illustration by Tessmann). The piece is very old and the surface patina both on the hide and wood is deep.
The rare box comes from the french art collector and artist Max Lanci and is in very good condition for its age. Special thanks to Emmanuelle Menuet for the priceless Grébert reference.
H: 23 cm (9 inches)
W: 22 cm (8 3/4 inches)