Spirit Embodiments

By Barbara Thompson
Friends of Usambara Society, Tanzania (formerly Stanford University; University of Iowa)

Ghana; Asante peoples

Mmaa Dwa (woman's stool)

Late 19th-early 20th century

Wood, metal, organic substances

H. 25 cm (9 7/8")

Photograph by Catherine Hale, May 2012, Offinso, Ghana


Throughout Africa, personal, domestic belongings can also be imbued with supernatural powers. Among the Asante, carved wooden stools are regarded as a person's most intimate and prized possession. At the death of honored individuals—such as clan elders, priests, chiefs, or queen mothers—the spirit of the deceased is transferred into their personal stool, which embodies the spirit of its deceased owner. After death, the stool is then placed in the family or royal shrine, along with stools from other important deceased family members, where it is provided with food, blessings, and offerings that blacken the surface. In exchange for these offerings, the deceased provides the living with blessings, protection, and welfare (Cole and Ross 1977: 138). The stool, as a spiritually charged object and the repository of the owner’s soul, helps maintain the participation of the deceased in the social, political, and religious life of the community.