Spirit Embodiments

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

Mossi peoples, Burkina Faso, war shirt.  Photo by Chrsitopher D. Roy.

How is one to protect oneself in such moments of danger, since danger comes in many forms? In warfare and hunting, immediate protection against dangerous forces is essential. West African war tunics were worn by chiefs, warriors, hunters, and occasionally kings, as protection against assault. Each charm is made of such diverse components as cloth, leather, animal skins or fur, bones, shells, beads, horns, Koranic amulets, and brass bells. These charms harness the powers of its origin source, such as the stealth of the leopard or flight of a bird. The actual meaning and power of each charm remains known only to its owner (McNaughton 1982).