PUNU Information

Location: Southern Gabon, Congo
Population: 40,000
Language: Punu (Bantu)
Neighbors: Ashira, Mpongwe, Lumbo, Kota, Fang, Kongo
Types of Art: The most common types of objects found are carved masks, which have been stylistically compared to Japanese art. They also carve standing reliquary figures, which watch over the bones of the deceased.
History: Although not much is known about the history of the Punu, linguistic evidence suggests that they moved into their current location from an area to the north, possibly driven southward by the Kota and Fang who moved into the area just north of Punu territory in recent centuries. This area had been occupied by various Pygmy peoples prior to Bantu expansion. Punu art forms suggest a connection with their neighbors that may have emerged from a shared history or simply through contact.
Economy: Punu economy is based on shifting hoe farming conducted in fields that have been carved out of the rain forests through slash and burn techniques. This is supplemented when necessary with hunting, fishing, and livestock, such as goats, sheep, and chickens. The surrounding Equatorial forests also provide various fruits, nuts, and tubers for consumption. The main crops include banana, yams, cassava, maize, peanuts, and manioc. Most labor is divided between the sexes, with men doing most of the hunting, gathering and clearing of land and women doing the other agricultural tasks.
Political Systems: The Punu live in small villages in the Ogowe River Basin that each include several lineages and are led by a individuals within the community who have inherited their position matrilinearly, rather than by a centralized force.
Religion: There is very little known about the Punu religion, but similarly to their neighbors to the north, the Fang and Kota, the Punu carve wooden reliquary figures which are stylistically different, but similarly attached to a basket carrying the bones of individual family ancestors. This seems to indicate a similarity in religious practices in regard to ancestor worship. There is also an abundance of female masks in this area. Several reports from early travelers in this area link those masks to the Mukui society, about which very little is known. Other reports link them to dances celebrating the female ancestors of the Punu peoples.
Credit: McIntyre, L. Lee and Christopher D. Roy. 'Art and Life in Africa Online.' 1998: The Art and Life in Africa Project,