This outstanding sculpture of a seated man is a rare anthropomorphic figure from one of Africa’s least understood groups; the Koma people of Northern Ghana. It is remarkably detailed and superbly preserved. It depicts a conical “seat” upon which is seated an intact male figure (truncated at the knees). Judging from the break pattern, he had his left leg crossed over his right and resting his hands on his knees. His torso is broad and flattened, and he is naked save for a very complex armlet on his left bicep and a very large chain necklace with a lunate-shaped pendant. The shoulders are rounded, leading to a columnar neck with a broad-jawed, somewhat humorous face with an aquiline nose, fine lips and protuberant eyes ringed with fine strips of clay. The apex of the head is hollow, perhaps to receive offrenda. It is unusually well-preserved and sensitively modelled.
The Komaland people are almost completely obscure, and since the original discovery of their artefacts in 1985 very little further research has been carried out. Basic dating indicates a range of perhaps 500 years between the 13th and 18th centuries. They are known to have been very able ceramicists, and made pots, figures, heads, talismans (anthropomorphic and zoomorphic) and a variety of other items; they were also, unusually, competent metalworkers, and produced a plethora of weaponry and ornate helmets. Their society was presumably sedentary, agricultural and hierarchical, as indicated by the range of crafts available, the tumuli in which they were found, and the size of the sites.
The significance of this piece is thus almost totally mysterious. There are many deformed and heavily stylised figures in the stylistic pantheon, but this specimen is normal – even attractive. It could have many meanings, none of them currently falsifiable. It could represent a “real” person, possibly high ranking person, judging from his seated posture and ornate jewellery. Alternatively, it could be a figure from Koma mythology, reproduced in his honour, or even a fanciful construction or experiment by a spectacularly imaginative and accomplished ceramicist. The aperture atop the head may hold some as-yet unguessed-at significance.
Whatever the reason for its manufacture, however, this is a rare and fascinating piece of ancient African art.