The name ñgontang comes from a contraction of ñgon ntañga, meaning “the daughter of the white man" (also called nlo-ngontang, a contraction of nlo ngon ntanga, meaning "the face of the daughter of the white man").
The masks were used in the ñgontang dance, a ritual designed to hunt out witch doctors or cure illness. Believed to be entities of the spirit world, the masks were thought to have the power to banish evil parasites.
With sorcery and witch doctoring the bane of Fang villages at the turn of the 19th century, ñgontang rituals were in high demand. Therefore, these masks were not seen purely as ceremonial but as powerful tools for social order and regulation.
Such masks began to disappear from use in the 1930s and by the 1950s, the quality of those in use had significantly declined. While they are still used on occasion, today, Fang ñgontang masks are largely confined to folklore.