The Fang ethnic group is part of the greater Bantu tribe of central Africa, which includes the countries Guinea, Cameroon and Gabon. Previously, the Fang people migrated around central Africa. Today, Fang mainly inhabit the hot rain forests of Gabon and make up 80% of the Gabonese population.
Due of their nomadic ways, the Fang are known for carrying the remains of their loved ones in boxes with them. This means they do not have instituted shrines for the dead but are still devoted to ancestor worship.
The sculptural art of the Fang is closely tied to worshiping their ancestors with certain masks and statues devoted to the cult and made only for its members. The Fang are noted both for their masks and their statues. Each kind of their art is grouped into different styles.
Fang statues can be classified into three groups: full figures which can be standing or seated; half-figures; and heads on long necks. The Fangs are masters of both slender and bulbous forms. Fang statues have many distinctive features including: cylindrical necks, short and stunted legs, domed foreheads and arching eyebrows. Each statue comes with a box that carries the remains of a deceased ancestor. Without these boxes, the statues are stripped of power and are no longer regarded as sacred. The Fang consult their statues for all aspects of the communal life.
The Fang people form a close association with their masks, carrying them everywhere and believing in their power to heal, protect and help communicate with ancestors.
The Fang create a diverse range of masks that includes both the simple and multi-faceted styles. There are four types of masks that are made solely for the Fang’s secret societies.
The first class of mask is worn by men of the secret society during their initiation ceremonies and when arresting offenders.
The second class of Fang masks is made for troubadours who travel between the villages. These are long and rubbed white with kaolin. These masks have heart-shaped faces with long noses. The third class of Fang masks is the red antelope. It is used in initiation ceremonies and comes with long horns.
The last class of Fang masks is the four-sided helmet mask, also known as the ngontang mask. The four figures on this mask have bulging foreheads and eyebrows arched in heart shapes. The ngontang mask is said to represent the spirit of the dead visiting this world as a young white girl. The Fang use the ngontang masks in solemn ceremonies of birth, mourning, village counsels and the expunging of sorcerers.