By William Dewey
Pennsylvania State University (formerly University of Iowa)

Mali; Djenné style



H. 42.5 cm (16 3/4")

Detroit Institute of Arts, Founders Society Purchase, Eleanor Clay Ford Fund for African Art, 78.32

The old town of Djenné has been excavated by the McIntoshs (1979, 1989), but very few sculptural items (twenty objects or fragments) have been found in the original archaeological context. The majority of the objects are from other sites (hence the preference of some to call them Middle Niger or Inland Niger Delta terracottas rather than Djenné/Jenne terracottas) and unfortunately have been looted from these sites. Any archaeological data is therefore lost forever. The area seems to have prospered agriculturally from the fertile alluvial soils and from craft specialization and control of trade—e.g., copper from across the Sahara and gold from the south. In the old city of Djenné there is little evidence of an elite ruling population. Instead, distinct subgroups, organized around particular clan specializations, seemed to coexist. It is difficult to know what role the terracotta sculpture played in this culture, and scholars must rely on informed guesswork.