Ancestors rituals and spirits evocations

Saturday 29 November 2008 by Florence

The deep meaning of certain masks and statuettes is based on ancestor and mythic worships. Their principal function is to allow communication with supernatural forces or nature spirits.

The Baule statuettes are part of these. They have principally two functions. The first group, named asie usu, represents natural spirits wandering in the jungle, described in turn as hideous and very beautiful. These spirits are supposed to have the power to possess human beings, to use them as mediums and to become embodied as statuettes intervening in divination seances. Such spirits must above all not be upset, but should be conciliated with an offer of a beautiful image in which to embody them. The second group is composed of the ‘‘wedding couple from the other world’’, named blolo bla or blolo bian. Every Baule, of either sex, is supposed to have had a spouse in the spirit world, whom he/she had left behind to join the world of the living, thus exposing him/herself to the spirit spouse’s anger. If the husband or wife from the other world torments the living person with sickness or in dreams, the latter, with a soothsayer’s advice, has a portrait carved and placed on an altar with offerings by way of appeasement. The Baule also use masks called goli which appear when there is some danger because of epidemics or death ceremonies. Their action must give a link with the supernatural powers which can have a bad influence on people’s life if they are not calming down.

The Lobi from Burkina Faso worship spirits called thil or thila which are honoured on altar built on the instruction of a sorcerer and generally situated on the roof or inside the houses. These altars are full of objects, wood statues and statuettes, supposed to be the incarnated thil spirits and dispose of the bad forces. It is these invisible spirits which order the creation, as quick as possible of statuettes called bateba to protect against curses. It happens that it is the man of the family who has to make the figure, even if he doesn’t know how to sculpt, and even if it is not aesthetically perfect it is put on the altar because what is important is its efficiency. This little statue is therefore typical of this idea of imperfection with its intersections showing its reliefs giving it its big expression force.

Among the great multitude of ancestor statues designed to perpetuate the memory of the founders of tribes through family or community worship there is a separate category of statuettes called ‘‘reliquaries’’. It expresses forcefully the persistence and authority of the dead, who thus remain doubly present, on a material level first, since the bones are preserved, and also on a mythical level, in the figurine which is not a portrait but an abstract evocation of the ancestor. The Ambete from Gabon put relics inside the statuette, most of the time in its back or on a basket beside him.

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