The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Art and Death in Southern Côte d’Ivoire

by Robert Soppelsa
US State Department / Art in Embassies (formerly Washburn University)

Mmaso (field pots) at Moosou, Côte d’Ivoire, 1979. Photo by Robert Soppelsa.


In the forests and lagoons of southwestern Ghana and southeastern Côte d'Ivoire live the Akan, peoples who speak closely related languages. The Akan often have centralized political systems and share belief in Nyame (a creator god). Their arts include gold objects and objects for the weighing and storage of gold, fine textiles, and terracotta portrait sculptures, sometimes  called mma, that commemorate dead royalty. These are used in elaborate funeral ceremonies as effigies of the deceased. They are made by women, who are also potters. Sculptures are "planted" in special places outside towns (mmaso, "Village of the mma,"or mmawo, "place of the mma", or asensie, "place of the pots"). They are placed either on graves or in areas of the forest identified with spirits and are offered periodic ceremonial meals. These places become shrines, identified with the protective powers of royal ancestors. In this photograph, you are looking at the Aby Lagoon in southeastern Côte d'Ivoire and at an entrance to the mmawo in the town of Moosou.