Fang artist
Reliquary figure, 19th ‑ 20th century
Wood, metal
15 1/8 × 4 × 3 7/8 in. (38.4 × 10.2 × 9.8 cm.)
Collection of the Speed Art Museum  X.1

A Guardian of the Dead
With its skull-like head, this figure once sat atop a box containing the skeletal remains of ancestors of the Fang people. Considered powerful spirits who protect the dead from harm, these figures also serve as intermediaries between the living and the dead. Families seeking the aid of the ancestors would offer sacrifices to these guardian figures and rub them with palm oil. (See how shiny he is?) These reliquaries, or containers for sacred relics, were also used to educate children about clan genealogy during initiation ceremonies or rituals.