Ancestral Initiation

By Allen F. Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles (formerly University of Iowa)

Mossi peoples, Burkina Faso, chief’s house. Photo by Christopher D. Roy.

Evariste Poda (1991) describes how a figure carved during funeral proceedings follows a spiritual journey from corpse to “ancestor,” thus dramatizing the unraveling of life's social relations and the weaving of others as ancestralization is achieved. As seen in this field photograph, art historian Christopher Roy visited a Mossi chief in Burkina Faso who owned three such ancestral figures: his grandfather’s, his father’s, and his own as a brightly painted sculpture of a soccer player. Symbolism must remain current if it is to remain vital, and the man’s love of “the beautiful game,” as soccer is often known around the world, is integrated into how he wishes to be remembered. Roy describes how the presence of the figure during royal ceremonies held once a year represents the permanent presence of the royal ancestors among their living subjects.