Signs and Symbols in African Art: Graphic Patterns in Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa


The Lobi provide an example of a people whose lives are so closely controlled by invented spirits that the very fabric of their social structure is determined by the rules for behavior these spirits have established. The Lobi live on widely scattered farmsteads spread across large areas of southwest Burkina and northern Ghana. Several such farmsteads comprise a community, whose spiritual life is organized around a congregation of followers of the spirits of nature which control life in the region. 

The Lobi are totally allergic to centralized political authority: they have no system of chiefs or kings whatever. This resistance to any sort of centralized political power caused great difficulty both for the French during the colonial period from 1897 to 1960, and for the contemporary independent government of Burkina Faso. Administrators and tax collectors attempted to assert their authority establish laws and enforce them and collect taxes from the Lobi only to be greeted by showers of stones and arrows. The Lobi fought a protracted war against the French early in the century, in which thousands of Lobi and dozens of French soldiers were killed. To this day it has been proved difficult for the government of Burkina Faso to extend the authority of the modern political state in the Lobi area.