Gheonga (Ancestor Figure)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:

The Tsogho (or Mitsogo) of Gabon largely adhere to the spiritual discipline Bwiti, also popular among the forest-dwelling Punu. It is recognised as one of the three official religions of Gabon.

Central to this spiritual belief is a spirit known as bwete that acts as a mediator between the divine and those who practice Bwiti. Bwete first reveals itself to believers during initiation ceremonies. Over time, initiates learn the bwete’s sacred language so they can communicate directly with one another. In learning the ways of Bwiti, the Tsogho seek to further their understanding of human nature, our place in the universe and the possibility of spiritual transcendence.

The Tsogho also create larger figures of their ancestors for more public use. Geongha (or ghengoma and ghéonga in some sources) are tall figures representing ancestors. They are created to protect the village and its inhabitants and ward off dark forces.

At least one of these sculptures is placed at the heart of the village so it is visible to all, acting as a reminder of the protection afforded by the ancestors. A pair of figures, one male and one female may also be placed to the side of the altar in ebandza temples, representing the first ancestors of the Tsogho, Nzambe-Kana and Disumba.

Distinguishing Features

  • Oval, heart shaped face
  • Double-arched eyebrows carved in light relief
    • Blackened eyebrows
  • Narrow nose
  • Large ears
  • Open mouth
  • Raised shoulders
  • Arms separated from the trunk
  • Bent arms
  • Clenched hands
  • Hands meet at naval
  • Rounded abdomen with truncated prominent navel
  • Slightly bent knees
  • Coloured with white and red pigment

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