Art and Death in Southern Côte d’Ivoire

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

Amon Ndufu II and his court (on a postcard from the collection of Robert Soppelsa), Anyi peoples, Côte d’Ivoire, 19th century. Unknown photographer. Submitted by Robert Soppelsa.

Only sparse information remains today regarding the original appearance of mmaso, mmawo, and asensie. We know from literary descriptions by both Africans and Europeans that sculptures were grouped in court formations, as they would be in life. The image reproduced here shows a king of the southern Anyi, Amon Ndufu II, and his courtiers and musicians. It was based on a photograph made by a French traveler/adventurer, Fleuriot de Langle, who visited the coast of West Africa in the mid-19th century and published an account of his travels, Crosières à la Côte d'Afrique. The king is seated at the center of the group, flanked by his principal wives, his spokesman, his sword bearers, drummers, horn players, flutists, and other members of the royal court. This was how they wished to be remembered in life. We can assume it is about how their commemorative portraits would have been placed in the mmaso.