The Guyanese buck, Tabwa, and magical Pygmies.

In Collecting African Tribal art shipping becomes part of the process. More often than not the boxes are a little bigger than the usual Amazon book package and for some reason a co-worker will usually ask if there’s a little person in there…. cue the Guyanese buck script.

African Art Shipping

[E1] African Art Shipping

My standard response is that the boxes contain a ‘Guyanese buck’ (or “Bacoo” [1]). Similar in stature to a leprechaun of Irish folklore, but with its own peculiarities. Legends agree that they can provide their owners with any wish, but they must be fed (and kept happy) on a diet of bananas and milk. ‘Baku’ in many West African languages means ‘little brother’ or ‘short man’ and the short races (such as the pygmies) were believed to have magical powers. I warn people that upon hearing any sound from the box it would be imperative to slip a bowl of milk in. It never stops the questions.

Guyanese Buck

[E2] Guyanese Buck

What had actually arrived in this particular box was a Tabwa mask, complete with stand.

Tabwa Mask

[E3] Tabwa Mask

One of my truly illogical idiosyncrasies when bidding at an auction is not walking away empty-handed, AND disappointed. This means if there is a fantastic piece at lot #30, then I will try to get the best piece I can before lot #30 is placed on the block. In this case my perception exceeded my expectation.

Tabwa Masks

[E4] Tabwa Masks

I am actually fond of the Tabwa mask and sculpture traditions. The tribe used “scarification as a means of perfecting the body through motifs alluding to positive social values and cosmological principles”. [2] The symmetrical patterns of extensive raised cicatrices and unique hairstyles separates Tabwa sculpture and art from other tribes.


[2] The Pacific Islands, Africa, and the Americas…Metropolitan Museum of Art, p.106

[E2] Buck picture Credit

5 Responses to The Guyanese buck, Tabwa, and magical Pygmies.

  1. duefry says:

    Shawn, On another note, you need help whittling down those folders?

  2. petchary says:

    How interesting about the “bacoo.” We don’t have them in Jamaica… Funnily enough, and this must be coincidence, there is a baku in Japanese folklore who is a supernatural creature or spirit that devours nightmares… (I studied Japanese so this rang a bell).

    • Actually Guyana has a small population of native Amerindians which i think may have played a part in the legend (Trinidad and Tobago do not have native bucks but several successful businessmen are rumored to have benefited from them).

  3. Max says:

    Yes they have but at grave cost and consequences such as haunting,being victim to brutal acts sometime they even defile women who own them plus much more!i’my from guyana

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