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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Lobi : Lobi Wooden Bateba Sculpture of a Woman
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Lobi Wooden Bateba Sculpture of a Woman - PF.4862 (LSO)
Origin: Burkina Faso/Ivory Coast/Ghana
Circa: 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 11.25" (28.6cm) high x 2" (5.1cm) wide
Collection: African
Medium: Wood

$1,200.00
Location: United States
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Description
This archaic-looking sculpture is a bateba thil figure from the Lobi group. It represents a female with comparatively short legs, a long torso, a columnar neck and an outsized head. Below the neck she is superbly rendered as a series of powerful geometric forms, with triangles and cubes making up the profile of the body (the abdomen, buttocks, thighs, calves and shoulders), ringed with graceful curvilinear arms that rest just above the incised groin. The head is superb, with a high domed apex, and a comparatively small face that takes up less than half of the head’s total height. The eyes are coffee-bean format under incised brows, with a pointed nose and protuberant mouth. The proportions are more carefully observed than is common for these figures, with graceful rendering of features such as the jawline and ears. The wood has an uneven burnished patina from handling and the application of libations.

The Lobi were founded sometime in the 18th century, when they moved to their current territory of Ghana, Togo and Burkina Faso. The term “Lobi” – whose name literally means “children [lou] of the forest [bi]” in Lobiri – covers various subclans (including the Lobi, Birifor, Dagara, Dorossy, Dyan, Gan and Teguessy) which can be differentiated, but which are usually identified as a homogenous unit by academics as they share common traits in terms of architecture and village structure, social/religious beliefs and thus artistic production. The country is intimately tied up in their beliefs. For example, the main river along which they settled – the Mounhoun – is believed to symbolise the division between this world and there hereafter, and must be crossed upon death; for this reason many Lobi initiation rites take place on its banks, and the animals which frequent it and its surrounds are considered sacred. They are an exceptionally martial group, and have a long history of struggles and sanguineous battles with long-serving enemies including the Guiriko and Kenedougou empires. The French, unsurprisingly, had problems with colonial administration in the area, and embarked upon a bloodbath of oppression in order to bring them under control. This powerful resistance also extended to Christianity, which the Lobi have eschewed for decades. Christian missionaries working in southern Burkina Faso reported that an elderly man in a Lobi village renounced the spirits in favour of Christianity by discarding his fetishes in a nearby lake. As he turned his back on the traditions, the fetishes leapt out of the lake onto his back again to reclaim him. Possibly for this reason, the artefacts associated with traditional belief systems are comparatively common, and display a healthy range of diversity that is often absent in older pieces from areas where the formidable power of forced Christianity was successfully brought to bear upon the native populations.

Lobi artistic production is intimately tied up with their beliefs. They are governed by a set of social conduct rules that are known as “zosar” Ancestors and fetishes of various sorts are commonplace, both domestically and on a wider social scale. They appeal to “thila” (or thil) spirits, who act as intermediaries between this world and high-power deities such as the creator god (Thagba). There are also various bush spirits, although tehse are not aspoweful as the thila. Access to the thila is controlled by the thildar, or diviner. The Lobi commission – with the help of the village sorcerer – figures known as “bateba”. These serve either an apotropaic function (Bateba Duntundora) or act as personifications of thila whose personal qualities are especially desirable. In the latter category, the specific sentiments are expressed by body position. The figures with one arm upstretched, for example, indicate a dangerous thil spirit, while erotic thil duos are designed to guarantee fertility to the females in whatever house it is displayed. It is likely that many of the variants reflect personal characteristics of thila, with corpulent, jolly or dejected individuals all known from older collections. However, there is a distinctive subset of bateba known as “bateba yadawora” – literally “unhappy bateba” – whose expressions and stances are believed to reflect sadness and mournfulness, and thus take any such sentiments away from their owners. Bateba are usually kept on domestic shrines inside or even on top of homes, and are revered alongside a number of other objects including iron statues and ceramic vessels that are often appeased and appealed to by the sacrifice of food, drink and miscellaneous substances, and many bateba still retain some encrusted offerings.

This is a striking and unusual example of a bateba statue, and a worthy addition to any collection of the genre.

- (PF.4862 (LSO))

 

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