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Art Gallery the Eye and the Hand

Anne-Louise Amanieu
Ecole du Louvre
Specialty Arts of Africa
December 2007

Fang mask society Ngil, Gabon, Pavilion des Sessions at the Louvre


Fang mask the Pavillon des Sessions consists partly of wood covered with kaolin and measure about 70 cm high. It dates from the late nineteenth century or early twentieth. Listed under the inventory number 65-104-1, it comes from the former collection of André Lefèvre and was acquired in 1965 by the Museum of Man.


This great helmet mask represents a stylized human face, whose face and elongated heart-shaped and slightly concave is shared by a long thin nose. On the top of the forehead develops a studded headband for attaching ornaments and who bears a ridge with extension to the front leads by three strokes for joining the nasal bridge and deployed above the eyebrows. The C-shaped ears stand out in high relief on both sides of the face, as the eyes and mouth, they are barely mentioned by simple incisions highlighted by thin slits etched tattoos that recall that arborist and the Fang Ntoumou Mvai by Günter Tessmann.


The mask of Ngil (NGI) exists only among the Fang, the people established the Sanaga River (southern Cameroon) Ogooué River (northern Gabon) and in Equatorial Guinea after a period of migration to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries stopped by the colonial authorities. The Reverend Father Henri Trilles, during his journey across the country between 1899 and 1901 Fang for missions of evangelization, said that the Ngil was mainly known as people Betsi. This mask belongs to an association of the same name whose primary purpose was to regulate the social order in discovering the perpetrators of deeds and punishing them, sometimes even killing them. The Ngil was concerned only severe cases for which he was called, everyday problems are usually resolved by the Ntole, family man. This association police and terrorized people acts a lot until it was banned by the colonial administration in 1910. Note however that the masks have been Ngil still used for almost a decade after the ban in the most unspoiled areas of Equatorial Guinea and the Ntem valley.

Within the association exclusively male, there were several grades, specifically appointed by Louis Perrois, ethnologist among others remained 10 years, from 1965 to 1975 in Gabon for an executive position at the Museum of Arts and Traditions of Libreville.
- First, the leader of Ngil the mbege-feg, which was formed by a former insider and large surpassed many successful events for both physical and painful (the test of the table or that of wasps to do make that list) that legal, especially at the time of his consecration as, under the Reverend Father Trilles, he must kill one of his close relatives. It is endowed with a certain power that is partly by the knowledge of plants and secret villages.
- The head of Ngil is surrounded in his action by his acolytes, nName-ngi who also suffered great hardship, beginning with a flogging, a confession of crimes and breaches of prohibitions, an ordeal ordeal (often by fire or poison) and sacrifices. This passage is both symbolic and actual took place in the ESAM, a secret enclosure outside the village, furnished with a hut in which was dug a large underground where they had spears and bones where the candidate was slide. In fact, the evidence was sufficient to estimate its determination and his courage was prevented from throwing it at the last moment. On the surface it fashioned large effigies of land vaguely human form, representing Ngil and his wife, photographed in 1913 by Günter Tessmann.

- Finally, candidates for entry into the Ngil were mvon-ngi, which after a month of seclusion during which they provided to food called "exciting" were nominated or not able to undergo the first tests after the interpretation of their communication with spirits in their dreams, this was a first physical and moral purification.

Thus, the group went from village to village, at the request and expense of the sponsor, the mod-ESAM. Indeed, following an unexplained death or suspected of witchcraft, was called Ngil sometimes from afar, he sat in a hut near the village and terrorized the population by looking for the culprit. In one of these stories and understanding the mournful cry that announces his arrival, Reverend Father Trilles appointed him as "the dreaded fetish women and many men, the fetish responsible to discover and punish the infidel women, thieves and murderers. " However, later in the story, he describes the mbege-feg unmasked as (one of the acolytes who wears a mask) and, just like Tessmann, it fails to describe the masks he observes. The latter speaks of Ngil as "the most significant and most friendly" forms of worship Pahouin territory. In this regard, Philippe Laburthe-Tolra stresses that the meeting attended by Ngil Tessmann during his expedition between 1905 and 1909, was specially organized for him and strongly devoid of truth

In fact, it has little specific information on these great masks and a few original copies of public and private collections are all but unique in their lifelike invoice. However, it is to relate certain aspects of the mask and the progress or the significance of the rite. For example, the whiteness of kaolin, with whom he was regularly repainted, evokes the power of the ancestors. The death takes place in many practices Ngil who use human flesh to make the ordeal by poison, bone to hit during the initiation rites, or to garnish the ESAM and symbolize the "mother of Ngil" Even if these bones are anonymous (from slaves, prisoners of war, dead nearby villages ...) or, in any case, be deemed as such. The size of the mouth barely mentioned on the mask is also important: the leader of Ngil arose at dawn or dusk, screaming, behind by a young boy waving a bell, advising the population to hide. This cry if pushed by the characteristic mbege-feg, the Reverend Father Trilles described as inhuman is certainly the result of intensive training and the swallowing of stinging plants but especially the fact that the mouth of the mask is extremely small and not hollowed-as is the case for the mask-the Pavillon des Sessions to give deep resonances that scare people.

It is difficult to talk about style mask for Ngil since none exist only very few specimens, all collected late nineteenth / early twentieth century. However, we can conduct a brief juxtaposition of different masks Ngil collections and also follow the description general enough in fact Perrois Louis.

"All have essentially the same morphology: a face more or less drawn to the chin, or completely distorted and a huge forehead and rounded (forming a sort of helmet that could fit onto the head of the dancer), a nose always size disproportionate, flanked by small close-set eyes, pierced, simply incised or carved out of almond and a tiny mouth and no lips, chin, sometimes with a full beard. The surface is whitened with kaolin (except that the mask of Leipzig) and sometimes decorated with finely carved scarification on the cheeks and forehead. When the mask is wearing a headdress, it represents a sort of cap with peak longitudinal and headband. "

All Ngil masks were not totally white: some showed bright colors obtained by soil ocher, red and black padouk pyrographed bitumen. This is where the mask collected by Heise in 1899 in southern Cameroon, currently held in Leipzig, with volumes more solid curves differ copy of the Musée du Quai Branly. By its small size (about forty centimeters high), it resembles that of the Barbier-Mueller (44cm high), magnified by the elegance of its design and scarred than the old collection Truth (48cm high) on the chin particularly advanced to the end of a concave face and also having scars perfectly arranged. This has reached a record $ 5.9 million on the sale at Drouot in June 2006, the collection started by Peter Truth in 1920. In a recent book, Louis Perrois will even state that "all great art collections" negro "and art" tribal "to the international level must, since the 1930s, have a great mask from the Fang Ngil Equatorial Africa. " He goes on to mention the impressive mask from the Berlin Museum, collected in 1895 by Oelert and present at the exhibition in New York in 1935, African Negro Art, whose dimensions exceed those of the Musée du Quai Branly.

In conclusion, we can quote the auction catalog of the collection Truth to confirm the importance of masks in Ngil an overview of art: "Fang of any art or primitive art in their entirety masks Ngil are unquestionably among the rarest and most coveted.
Fang mask that belonged to Vlaminck and Derain to now in the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris was the emblem of a generation of artists and do not we say that Picasso painted his Les Demoiselles d ' Avignon under the influence of beauty and strength of a mask like this? The harmony of shapes of masks Ngil causes in western true admiration, we sometimes forget, behind this aesthetic close to perfection, its primary role of inquisitor terrifying people. The proof is that before there is further interest, the mask was unclear Ngil ... see you at the description of the catalog of the collection of André Lefèvre in 1965!

- Falgayrettes-Leveau, Christiane, 2006, Gabon, the presence of spirits, Musée Dapper.
- Philippe Laburthe-Tolra, 1985, initiations and secret societies in Cameroon: the mysteries of the night, Editions Karthala.
- Philippe Laburthe-Tolra and Falgayrettes-Leveau Christiane, 1997, Fang: exposure 1991/avril November 1992, Paris: Editions Dapper.
- Perrois Louis (for the preface), Gabon Fernand Gebert: 1913-1932
- Perrois Louis, 1985, the ancient art of Gabon in the collections of the Barbier-Mueller Museum, Editions Nathan.
- Perrois Louis, 2006, Fang, editions of the Five Continents.
- Raponda-WALKER Andrew and Roger Sillans, 1962, Rites and beliefs of peoples of Gabon: an essay on the religious practices of the past and present, Paris / Dakar.
- Günter Tessmann, partial translation of Die Pangwe Fang in the book published by the Dapper museum in 1991.
- TRILLES Henry, 1912, the Fang or fifteen years of residence in the French Congo.
- Collection Andre Lefevre, Paris-Drouot, December 1965.
- Truth Collection, P

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