By Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Burkina Faso; Lobi peoples

Bateba (figure)


H. 64 cm. (25")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.342

For most Africans the world is given life by spirits that inhabit the fields they farm, the clouds that bring rainfall, the rivers from which they gather fish, and especially the wilderness where they hunt wild animals and which they must disturb to clear new land for farming or for the construction of villages.  Among the Lobi each of these spirits has a unique personality and particular skills or talents that it can bring to bear to protect its owner and his family.  They are anthropomorphized just as the ancient Greeks gave their gods human personalities and forms.  The gesture of the figure is a key to understanding its meaning: figures like these are called  "ordinary persons", and have broad generalized protective powers.  Figures with one arm raised are called  "dangerous persons" for they are about to strike out violently against any threat, their skills or talents are more specialized, more powerful, and more dangerous.