The Tsogho (or Mitsogo) of Gabon largely adhere to the spiritual discipline Bwiti, also popular among the forest-dwelling Punu, Fang and Kota. 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.
Another key part of the Bwiti religion is mombe — ancestor worship. As part of this process, the Tsogho create wooden busts for placement in a mbumba Bwiti, a sack usually made from antelope skin. These sacks may also be filled with bones, jewellery, grain, shells, and coins. The wooden figures are created in the image of the Tsogho ancestors to act as guardians of the living. They are often used during nocturnal rituals.
Today, these Tsogho half-figures are incredibly rare and much coveted.