Nature, Spirits and Arts in Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Burkina FasoLobi peoples

Bateba (figure)

Wood

H. 62.9 cm (24 ¾”)

The University of Iowa Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.343

These nature spirits are normally invisible. We may feel their power in the violence of a summer thunderstorm, but we cannot see the spirits themselves until they are made visible by the carved figures that embody them. Among the Lobi people, the spirits are called wathil, and the figures that are carved to represent them are boteba. Each spirit has unique character, its own power to heal or to prevent accidents, to help those who honor it to overcome adversity. Some figures, like this male boteba, stand ready to meet any threat, composed, poised, ready to strike. Others may raise a hand to one side to block the entrance to the home of evil forces. Like human families they come in male/female pairs, and may have children. This figure, one of a pair of male figures in the Stanley Collection, has been separated from its female partner since it left Africa decades ago.