New Book: Africa, in the Shadow of the Gods

African Collections of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit

August 30, 2017 By: Adenike Cosgrove | Nicolas Rolland

September 2017 will see the publication of Afrique, a l’ombre des dieux; Africa, in the shadow of the gods, a book about the incredible history of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit in Africa, over the last three centuries. The book showcases images and analysis of exceptional masterpieces of classic African art collected by the Congregation along with rare documents from the missionary’s archives which until now, have only been displayed in French Spiritan homes, locked away from the public.


"At a time when there is growing interest of the public in not only the history of Africa, but also its culture and art, this book proposes to return on an exciting and yet little-known episode: the contribution of Catholic missionaries in the field of African ethnology."

—Superior General, Fr. John Fogarty, C.S.Sp.


From first image:
Father Léonard Allaire (1870-1947) and his blacksmiths. Bessou, Congo, circa 1895. © CSSp
Father Léonard Allaire (1870-1947) standing among freed slaves. Brazzaville, Congo, circa 1890. © CSSp
Monsignor Prosper Augouard (1852-1921) with Chief Betou making a "blood pact". Oubangui, 1892. © CSSp
Father François-Marie Pichon (1898-1966) on a motorcycle. Cameroon, circa 1930. © CSSp

The Congregation of the Holy Spirit, a Catholic missionary society founded in France in 1703, made Africa its main land of mission. From the 1840s, the Spiritans radiated throughout its territory, but more specifically still, its equatorial zone (present-day Gabon and Democratic Republic of the Congo). Its members live there alongside populations whose languages, customs, and rituals ​​they learn. They collect valuable information for ethnologists on the ground and collect many artefacts—everyday objects, but also ritual sculptures associated with eminently religious contexts. The Congregation thus constitutes, over time, important ensembles which will nevertheless remain largely unknown.

Patient research work carried out over several years has helped shed light on the history of the Spiritains, but also uncovered many unpublished objects, including some authentic masterpieces of African art. Accompanied by rare archival documents and analysis by the most eminent specialists in Equatorial Africa, the collections of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit are finally presented to the general public in all their diversity and richness.

From first image:
Fang Eyema Bieri Reliquary Guardian Figure, Gabon, 19th Century. CSSp Collection © CSSp
Punu Okuyi Mask, Gabon, 19th Century. CSSp Collection © CSSp
Kota Boho Na Bwete Reliquary Guardian Figure, Ndassa, Gabon, 19th Century. CSSp Collection © CSSp
Kongo Nkondi Nkisi Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Late 19th–Early 20th Century. CSSp Collection © CSSp

Non-French speakers, you’re out of luck, the book is in French. But with over 200 images of objects, field photos, and archival documents, we can still feed our eyes. The book can be pre-ordered from Somogy Editions d’Art and a preview of the book’s first few pages is available here.

But wait, there’s more! If you’re at Parcours des Mondes in September, you can hear the book’s Director Nicolas Rolland, along with Gabonese art expert Louis Perrois, speak more about the research, analysis, and objects within the book on 14 September. See our events page for more details.


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