|Lobi Bateba Phuwe figure
|The Lobi people live in a vast geographical area that stretches from Burkina Fasso, to the Ivory Coast and into Ghana. Villages are spread out over wide
areas and are made up of several compounds.
The Lobi community is not organized on the basis of kinship or political ties and lacks any kind of centralized political authority in the form of a chief king
or council of village elders. Instead the members of the community are united by common adherence to the cult of a nature spirit called “thil” (pl thila) and
the rules that determine correct social behavior in the community are the rules that the spirit dictates through the diviner (thildar). The thila are invisible
spirits of nature with certain supernatural abilities and powers that they can use for malevolent or benevolent ends. Each village has a particular spirit
(dithil) that is responsible for the entire village.
Social behavior is regulated by these thila, whose will is passed to ordinary people by priests and diviners. Wooden or clay sculpture, called bateba, act
as an intermediary between a particular thil and the Lobi community.
Lobi bateba figures have a wide degree of style and are made for a wide range of purposes. In Lobi communities anyone can learn to carve, it is not
limited to people with specialized training. Lobi bateba figures are believed to be able to act in behalf of their owner, they are considered a living being
and have the ability to act out against forces that could harm it’s owner or bring good things to it’s owner depending on it’s intended purpose.
Very basic definitions
BATEBA - Generally in literature on the Lobi the term "bateba" translates to a "wooden carved figure"
BATEBA PHUWE - Normal or ordinary Bateba
These figures usually have no specific defining posture and are often figures with arms straight down and the figures are looking straight ahead and
often have a grim look on the face. These figures can have a variety of different functions.
BATEBA Tl BALA - Unusual or extraordinary Bateba (sub categories Thil Dokra <janus figure>, Betise <mating couple>, maternity figures)
Thil Dorka - Figures with two heads represent deities whose ability to see in several directions at once makes them exceptionally dangerous and powerful
Betise - Figures depicting a man and a woman making love (the man always positioned behind the woman) are prescribed for single men so that they
find a wife or to women to avoid sterility or wished to have a child.
BATEBA YADAWORA - Sad Bateba
Some figures are carved with sad expressions or have a hand touching the face because their function is to mourn for their owners.
BATEBA Tl PUO - Dangerous Bateba
Often referred to as Bateba Duntundara as well, these figures are considered dangerous and block entrance to harmful forces such as disease or
witchcraft, and are depicted with one or both arms held up.
BATEBA BAMBAR - Paralysed Bateba
Figures depicting a seated man or woman with their legs stretched out in front of them are called bamgbar/bambar. According to certain soothsayers,
these protect children and the elderly from paralysis.
The Lobi often have conflicting interpretations of the meanings of the figures, and there are also varied meanings on similar figures because of regional
References: A History of Art in Africa, Lobi Art and Culture, The Lobi of Burkina Fasso, Lobi Skulpturen
If you are interested in learning more about the Lobi, CLICK HERE to go to some great online reference articles.
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|Lobi Bateba Phuwe figure (ordinary bateba)
|Photos of the Lobi shrines from:
Lots more photos at this site!
|Information and photos below from:
Metropolitan Museum of Art
|Shrine Figures: Couple (Bateba Phuwe)
Lobi, Burkina Faso
Wood; male: H. 57.2 cm (22 1/2 in.); female:
H. 46.4 cm (18 1/4 in.)
Thomas G. B. Wheelock Collection
|The impetus for the creation of these works and the manner in which they should ideally appear came from spirits who
conveyed the desired images through the medium of a diviner. Their subsequent realization fulfilled a prescription that
resulted in curing an ailment or otherwise relieving some personal difficulty.
According to Lobi conceptions of existence, God (thangba yu), the Creator of all life on earth, is an abstract and distant force.
(1) More directly engaged in human experience are the thila, invisible and bodiless beings endowed with superhuman powers
and abilities. Through the medium of diviners (buor), the thila issue injunctions against certain kinds of behavior; anyone who
violates them will be punished with an ailment or some other misfortune. They also provide the means to reverse these
conditions by prescribing cures and protective measures, also conveyed through buor.
This dynamic was set in place by thangba yu in order to establish standards of political, social, and moral order in Lobi society,
which humans had been incapable of managing by themselves. At the time of creation, according to oral traditions, humankind
had enjoyed a carefree state in which thangba yu had provided for all its needs, a world where sickness and death were
unknown, as were war or conflict of any kind. As a requirement of these idyllic conditions, thangba yu prohibited adultery and
killing—commandments that were violated when the population grew out of control. Consequently, thangba yu retreated
forever, leaving humanity to provide for itself and vulnerable to suffering and mortality. To mitigate this isolation, the Creator
assigned to the thila the responsibility of responding to human needs and protecting people against witchcraft and sorcery.
The directives (bonoo) given to individuals through buor are very exacting and must be fulfilled with precision. Failure to do so
is thought to lead either to some form of punishment by the thila or to the persistence of the difficulties being experienced.
Because they are amorphous beings, the thila depend on human mediums to communicate their instructions. Thila select
individuals to fulfill this role by revealing themselves directly to them, or through notifying other diviners. Individuals usually
resist this calling, as it is considered an onerous responsibility in view of the time commitment it represents and its lack of
remuneration. Training is relatively informal and consists of observing consultations and rituals and learning the signs that the
thila use to communicate.(2)
Individuals consult diviners to gain insight into a broad range of situations that concern them. They enter into this relationship
without describing the problem at hand. Instead, the diviner positions himself beside the client, grasps his hand, and, in order
to determine independently the nature of the problem and which thila is involved in this particular situation, poses a series of
questions that can be responded to with "yes" or "no" answers. Responses are indicated through specific movements of their
joined hands.(3) A diagnosis ultimately reveals behavioral prohibitions that must be followed, sacrifices that are required, and
instructions that may request the construction of a shrine or the commissioning of figural sculpture (bateba).(4)
Small wood figurines are often part of the collection of paraphernalia owned by the buor, whereas works that are
commissioned to fulfill prescriptions are larger in scale. The sculptor (bateba thel), who may himself have been directed toward
his vocation by his thila, carefully follows the guidelines for such works, provided by the spirits through the diviner.(5) This
couple represents a unified vision of the human form but displays subtle distinctions between the male and female figures.
Although the female is slightly smaller in scale, she shares the same bold rectilinear cast, crisply rendered features, and
gradually swelling torso with a pronounced navel. Both are depicted in a state of intense concentration, eyes closed and lips
pursed, the male figure facing forward while his female counterpart turns her head in profile. This creates a dramatic shift
between the orientation of their bodies and her gaze.
Lobi figural sculptures commissioned as a result of a divination consultation represent tibila thil, people who help a spirit, and
are designed to be placed in a residential or public shrine.(6) These two figures are thought to be bateba duntundara, a genre
of bateba that serve to shield their owner against the witches that might attempt to enter his or her home.(7) Duntundara can
be found in a broad range of representations, including figures that gesture dramatically or feature unusual physiological
characteristics such as multiple heads or arms. Standing with their arms at their sides, this couple falls into a category of
"plain" (phuwe) figures. Despite their tranquil stance, they embody an attitude of vigilance and acute awareness that
surpasses ordinary reliance on sensory perception and intimidates potential malefactors.
1. Piet Meyer in Peek 1991, p. 92.
2. Ibid., p. 94.
3. Labouret 1931, p. 453; Piet Meyer in Peek 1991, p. 96.
4. Piet Meyer in Peek 1991, pp. 98–99.
6. Meyer 1981b.
7. Piet Meyer, Kunst und Religion der Lobi, exh. cat. (Zurich: Museum Rietberg, 1981), p. 56; Meyer 1981a, pp. 21–22.
Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art
|LOBI brass Chameleon in my collection
|A Lobi figure from the Maurer Collection
|A Lobi figure from the Maurer Collection
|A group of late 19th/early 20th century Lobi figures
Height: 17,3 to 53,5 cm
Collection du Musée des Beaux-Arts d'Angoulême (Poitou-Charentes)