Governance

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Burkina Faso; Lobi peoples

Man's stool

Wood

L. 56.2 cm (22 1/8”)

The University of Iowa Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.357

Systems of social organization in Africa range from highly centralized states to noncentralized communities. Centralized systems have a chief or king at the apex of a complex and well-ordered political bureaucracy. Noncentralized systems are more democratic, in which councils of elders representing each of the families in a community meet to make decisions about the conduct of life. Finally there are numerous peoples that lack any political organization or authority beyond the family. Lobi peoples of Burkina Faso never had village or community chiefs, nor did the hunter-gatherers of the tropical rain forest of Central Africa. Yet in each case, status is important, and art has an important role to play in reinforcing the social fabric. A Lobi man gains status by his skill as a hunter and warrior, and his importance is reflected in his possessions, especially the three-legged stool he carries with him whenever he visits the small cabarets that sell millet beer.