Art and Death in Southern Côte d’Ivoire

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

Archaeological site, Aowin peoples, Côte d’Ivoire. Photo by Patricia D. Coronel. Submitted by Robert Soppelsa.


This photograph of an Aowin archaeological site was taken in the early 1970s. The Aowin, like the Anyi, call the place, where terracotta portraits are "planted," the mmaso. It is always just outside town, usually near a main access route into town (modern roads seldom follow these same paths, which were footpaths in the forest). Characteristically, objects and fragments of objects (heads, torsos, arms, hands) are scattered in seeming random fashion on the forest floor, in close proximity with simple cooking pots, "hearth pots," which are hollow-bottomed pots used in domestic cooking, and sometimes other dishes and utensils such as spoons. Archaeologists have found little evidence that any of the kitchenware at these sites was ever used for cooking. However, numerous descriptions of the installation of sculptures (called "planting") mention that they are given a feast, which is repeated on important ceremonial occasions. Among the Anyi, women with fertility problems eat this food, hoping it will increase their chances of bearing healthy children.