In Moba communities of northeastern Ghana and northwestern Togo, diviners influence and direct the commissioning, design, and ritual
treatment of sculptural forms created for several different kinds of domestic shrines. Both the scale and the relatively abstract form of this
particular work suggest that it was probably owned by an extended family or clan. It was associated with their origins and played a vital role
in assuring their collective well-being.
In Moba society, when ancestral offerings fail to provide an individual with desired relief, an earth oracle with an established reputation is
consulted. In advising individuals, families, or clans, Moba diviners prescribe tchitcheri figures to fortify their clients and improve their lives.
Such works increase the efficacy of the ritual actions performed at shrines by calling forth positive ancestral influences. They are
protective and promote health and prosperity on a range of different levels. When a particular problem disrupted an individual's life,
diviners often recommended the addition of a figurative work to that person's private altar. Similarly, problems of broader concern, such as
diseased livestock, poor harvests, or infertility, often led diviners to prescribe that a larger work be commissioned for a family shrine.
Challenging an account by Leo Frobenius from the turn of the century, which suggested that the owner of such a work carved it him- or
herself, Christine Mullen Kreamer determined that it was invariably made by a specialist. Although in Moba society, wood carving is a skill
that all may acquire, tchitcheri may be fashioned only by individuals whose fathers are diviners. Carving tchitcheri is considered a delicate
and highly dangerous operation, and diviners give their sons special protection needed for the creation of such ritually charged objects.
Those who transgress this sanction are thought to risk blindness or insanity.
Three different genres of tchitcheri may be distinguished by their patronage, contextual placement, scale, and degree of abstraction. The
smallest of these, yendu tchitcheri, are placed in personal shrines, which all adults possess. They do not represent any particular person
or ancestor but are considered an individual's direct link with God. Middle-size bawoong tchitcheri (between 25 and 90 centimeters high)
are designed for household shrines situated prominently in the vestibule of a family compound. These figures represent recent ancestors,
such as the parents or grandparents of current compound leaders (no more than three or four generations removed), whom the diviner
advises the family to petition. Because the figures correspond to known ancestors, they are more detailed in representing bodily and facial
I belive that my piece shown below falls into the category of tchitcheri sakwa, which evoke and are named after a clan's founding member.
The Moba are subsistence agriculturalists, and rituals are conducted before planting and harvest by the family's eldest male member, who
applies libations to its sakwa commemorating the founding ancestor. Stylistically, sakwa fall between the extremely abbreviated, faceless,
anonymous yendu and the more specifically identifiable bawoong portraits. These monumental works are prominently placed outside, in
the household yard. Although the features of a family's sakwa become abraded by the elements, it stands from one generation to the next
as an indelible marker of its spiritual life. No contemporary works of this kind have been commissioned, and oral history and the condition
of some surviving works suggest that they may be several centuries old.
The highly standardized design of tchitcheri reduces the human figure to an elemental form. Attenuated arms may either form a single unit
with the torso or be detached at chest level. Minimal attention is given to facial features, details such as hands and feet are generally
omitted, and only occasionally is gender suggested. This extremely reductive polelike figure is crowned by a rounded knoblike head with a
blank expression. The upper body forms a unified, continuous surface, with its arms held at its sides along the length of the torso. The
trunk is represented as a recessed rectangle with raised nipples and umbilicus; at its base, it narrows and then flares outward slightly to
suggest hips. Below, clothespinlike legs are carved as two separate prongs that taper off into narrowed stems. Despite an emphasis on
bilateral symmetry, the figure leans very gently to one side. Throughout the weathered surface, abrasion and splits reveal the effects
wrought upon the work over time.
Information is taken from: http://www.metmuseum.org/explore/oracle/figures39.html
|Moba tchitcheri sakwa figure
52" tall with wooden base
I especially enjoy the curvature of this piece and it adds to it's uniqueness.
Provenance: ex Nicholas Boeck Collection - US
This figure is currently in the exhibition: "Native Arts of the World...At Home in Colorado - The Douglas Society Collects"
|Rand African Art
Moba figures main page
Additional photos of the Moba people and information click here
|Photos below were taken at the installation of the exhibition - "Native Arts of the World...At Home in Colorado - The Douglas Society Collects"