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Fang Biere Figure
Bieri figurative sculpture from the Fang people of Central Africa.
he Fang people of Gabon and Cameroon are well known for the reliquary figures they produce. Called Bieri, these figurative sculptures were placed on top of bark boxes containing the bones of revered ancestors, such as male founders of villages and women with exceptional spiritual powers. These ancestors, the great personages of the local lineage, were called upon to assist the living in solving critical problems and in dealing with issues of importance to the village. Created with great simplicity, at the same time they exhibit a high degree of sophistication in the coordination of bulbous forms. The arms have various positions: hands clasped in front of the body; held in front of the chest or attached to it; hands resting on the knees. Legs are short and stunted and usually there is a domed, wide forehead. The Bieri would be consulted when the village was to change location, when a new crop was planted, during community disputes, or before going hunting, fishing, or to war. But once separated from the reliquary chest, the sculpted object would lose its sacred value. Bieri figures are generally characterised by a large head, long body and short extremities; the Fang Bieri had the proportion of a newborn, thus emphasizing the tribe’s continuity with its ancestors and with the three classes of society: the “not-yet-born,” the living and the dead.
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