This small figure, made by artists of the Tikar culture of Cameroon, is a representation of a house god, an ancestral power that is believed to have been one of the first occupants of this region. The figure is short and stout because the Tikar believe that their ancestors were pygmies. Such house god sculptures are kept in the home because the figure is believed to provide protection and fertility. On the back of the figure is a cavity where the owners can place powerful substances that are believed to increase the house god’s spiritual connection and make the figure more effective.
This small, dark sculpture is a reliquary guardian figure made and used by the Fang cultures of southern Cameroon. Reliquary guardians are placed in baskets or other containers that hold the bones, or relics, of Fang ancestors, and the figures are believed to protect the ancestor from evil forces and evil doers.
This small ntadi figure (plural mintadi) is a figure made by artists of the Kongo cultures of Central Africa to memorialize a king, to serve as a grave monument, and to serve as a connection between the living and the dead. This sculpture is identifiable as an ntadi because the figure wears a traditional king’s cap, and the figure sits with crossed legs and with his tilted head in his hand, indicating that the figure is deeply thoughtful – an ideal quality in a Kongo king. Mintadi figures are also sometimes depicted as smoking, which symbolizes that the king wants to be left alone to smoke and to think.
Different cultures in Central Africa make wisdom sculptures, but the unusual shape of the five heads on this sculpture reveal that this is a work made by Songye artists. The four lower heads of the sculpture each faces outward, so that the figure may see in all directions. This symbolizes how the owner, who would be the highest-ranking member of the community, should know what is going on in the community; such a leader should be wise, impartial, and fair, and consider all sides of an argument or issue when making decisions.
The distinctive eyes of this figure reveal that this sculpture was made by artists of the Chokwe culture of Central Africa. The horn on the top of the figure’s head is a symbol of power and reveals that this is a type of power figure, used by individuals to acquire power. Diviners may also add other power substances to the figure to increase its power, such as the materials used to embed the shells and secure the feathers to the figure.