Art and Death in Southern Côte d’Ivoire

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

Old postcard image of mmaso in southeastern Côte d’Ivoire. Photo by Robert Soppelsa.

Here is a photograph of a mmaso somewhere in southeastern Côte d'Ivoire early in the twentieth century. Portrait sculptures and pots are crowded together under a simple shelter made of sticks and thatch, in no apparent order; some pieces appear broken, and others are lying on their sides. Most available photographs of such places look similar to this, though some are more crowded than others. Other collections of sculptures and pottery have been found in the forests near abandoned towns, completely overgrown. All of these have one thing in common: they do not display the orderly arrangement of figures that the Akan accounts indicate should be a part of commemorative groups of terracottas. According to descriptions, figures were grouped formally, with the most important pieces at the center, and others, in descending order of size, grouped around them as they would have been in court ceremonies during life.