Fang Ngil Society Mask Gabon
Well known for their reliquary figures the Fang also danced finely sculpted masks during a number of ritual activities. Among the Fang white-painted masks identified with the Ngil society are known for their elegant abstractions of the human face. Ngil masks have been described as having a 'heart-shaped face' due to the facial features emphasizing refined curves of the orbital ridges above the eyes and the prominent line of the long tapering nose that ended above a discretely mouth carved at the bottom of the chin that completes the abstraction of the face. Ngil masks were worn during initiations and known for judicial and social control activities in searching out sorcerers, a process that ultimately led to their being banned by the French colonial authorities in 1910. A later development among the Fang was the appearance of a mask known as Ngontangan, "the head of the young white girl" referring to early European women missionaries who arrived on the coast during the nineteenth century. The mask may have had ritual or ceremonial meaning in the past exorcising malevolent sorcerers but appears not to carry significant symbolic weight today. Though few in number the elegant forms and abstractions of the Ngil masks made them very attractive to early modern European artistic sensibilities serving as models for a number of sculptors. While emphasizing its pure forms, the mask's white color also marks its spiritual identity.