Lobi , Objet art of the ethnic Lobi - African-art.net
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Lobi

The Lobi do not use masks, but create instead statues called ‘Bateba’ that play an essential role in their life and in the protection of every household. They also make sculpted heads, placed on the top of a post planted in the ground, and the altars of sacred houses are surrounded by a number of solemn looking statues with high foreheads. The eyelids are saggy; there is a distant look on the faces, and the nose is triangular and straight. The lips of some statues are deformed by the lip plate on the upper lip, worn by women in the past.

Each family head owns a three legged stool, that acts as a sign of their status and that they carry everywhere with them.

Lobi sculpture has nothing of the seductive allure of the statues from the Ivory Coast or those from the Republic of Congo, where the wood is carefully polished and the patina is shiny and lustrous. Lobi statues are made from rough wood and are very straightforward.

The Lobi live in an area that stretches through three countries: Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast and Ghana.

The Organisation of Lobi Society

The transmission of wealth is matrilineal, but patrilineal in regard to the cultivation of land, dwellings and domestic altars. The Lobi are not governed by a central authority, they group together in clans. The Lobi are ferocious warriors, and armed conflicts are carried out at a matrilineal clan level.

At harvest time, the men work in the fields. The women sow seeds and carry the sweet corn cobs on their heads. They raise cattle and poultry. During the rainy season, the men are not in the fields, but work metal and wood and build houses. Throughout this period, the men also visit their relatives, take care of funeral arrangements, and organise markets and important meetings.

The villages are made up of large square houses built at a distance one from the other. These constructions are just a single building with a terrace rooftop and no windows. Around them are scattered the crop fields. The household, made up of the wife or wives, the married sons, their wives and their children, lives under the total authority of the head of the family. This familial regrouping is subordinate to the ‘Thil’, invisible protecting genie or spirit that transmits his demands via diviners and witch doctors. Very strict family rules determine where the men settle. Marriages must respect important rules in regard to both patrilineal and matrilineal relationships.

Initiation is organised by the head of the family at the request of his Thil. Other members of the family participate in this ritual as it requires an abundance of food and sacrifices that are very costly.

Every seven years, young men and women retrace the path of the mythical origin along the banks of the Volta. The young initiates follow a long apprenticeship that comes to an end when they return among the elders of the village.

The Rites, Religious Beliefs and Statues of the Lobi People

The Lobi believe in the existence of a vital element called ‘Thuu’ (spirit or double), which is the main constituent of a person and which can evolve according to the behaviour of the individual. At the same time the Thuu can have an effect on each individual character. Thus, there is a reciprocal influence between the individual and his Thuu. When something affects one it will also affect the other. This vital element lives on after death and can manifest itself in strange ways. The Lobi recognize the ability of the dead peoples’ Thuu to exert their influence over the living and call the manifestation of its power the Thil (plural Thila). The nature of the Thila is inextricably linked to the deceased’s Thuu. Some Thil are benevolent and others are harmful.

 A defunct person, whose life and services to the community has been praised, has a benevolent Thuu. Their spirit is considered as a benevolent power that governs the future of the matriclan members. The building of domestic altars allows for the worship of cults and the practice of sacrifices dedicated to maternal grandparents under whose protection individuals are placed from early childhood.

Certain individuals, due to badly executed funerals or unnatural death (and therefore chastised according to the beliefs of the ancestors) are forced to err and become dangerous or harmful Thila. They seek out shelter in human life form and their presence in the human body is responsible for a series of physical or mental illnesses. The individual finds himself in an impure state and needs to be ‘cleansed’ through sacrifices, and procedures that will redirect the Thil responsible for this staining of the body. In his prescription, the diviner indicates the gestures (made by the statues) needed to heal the affected individual.

The Lobi revered the Thil spirits, honouring them at altars built under the witch doctor’s instructions, placed either on the roof or inside of the house. These altars are filled with objects: crockery, abstract shaped iron statues, stone or wooden statues called ‘Batheba’, who are supposed to incarnate the Thil spirits. These Batheba statues are between 5 and 60 cm high and have slightly bent legs. There are two categories of Batheba:

-        The Batheba Duntundora that serve to divert evil towards others, measuring 60cm high on average and that have a ferocious expression  revealing their ability to chase away evil forces.

-        The other Batheba that are the incarnations of the Thil spirits, and are in the form of wooden or terracotta statues. Each position symbolizes a particular Thil. For example; the statue with its arms wide open or raised symbolizes a dangerous Thil and the peril foreseen by the diviner. It is conceived to resolve the critical situation caused by the malevolent Thil. The aim is to lead the evil spirit to the statue ‘trap’ that is offered to him. In this way, the individual can be freed of the Thil and suitable sacrifices will allow the evil Thil to be kept prisoner in the appropriate Batheba. The statues represented in a romantic position, and the maternities, incarnate the Thil spirits that bring prosperity or fertility.

Each altar has its protectors, maintained by the head of the family who frequently consults the diviner.

The Thil dictate taboos; demand that a new statue be made for the sanctuary, village or house. If the orders of the Thil are not followed, disaster might strike the village (epidemic, drought…) the mistake of an individual might bring punishment for the whole community.

The Lobi believe that in the past they lived in a terrestrial paradise. Fed by the God creator, they did not have to work, and had no illnesses or premature deaths.  In return, they had to obey the commandments of their God: do not steal, do not kill, remain united, and do not want after your neighbours’ wife. But, because the women were insufficient in number fights and wars ensued. The God then turned away from the Lobi, he replaced the meat that he gave them with hoes to cultivate the ground. However, God left the Lobi the Thila to help them transmit the initiation rites, rituals and remedies by the intermediary of the diviners.

There are also other mythical characters such as the bush spirits. They are invisible to some men and visible to others. They show men how to question the deceased, how to bury them and how to interpret the prophets.

The diviner is the person who can understand the will of the Thil. His position is not particularly enviable. In effect, the diviner gives between 10 and 20 consultations a day and he is not allowed to refuse a consultation. At each of these consultations he must ask a multitude of questions to each person in order to understand, interpret and explain the reason for the consultation. The diviner is not paid for his office and has no time to cultivate the fields. Nobody wants to be a diviner, but anybody called by the spirits to be a diviner and who refuses can be punished by death. The diviner is equipped with various objects: statues, bells, cowrie shells, stones, straw…as a general rule, he prescribes the offering of sacrifices or the construction of a sanctuary. The only means for a diviner to attain a certain prestige is to combine his position with the work of a sculptor.

Both men, women and children can be witches, capable of taking possession of a person’s soul and killing them. The priest owns a number of statues and his Thila are extremely efficient in identifying the guilty parties.

Lobi Sculptors

The sculptor also lives from farming and devotes only some of his time to sculpting. His apprenticeship is short; hence numerous works are not of a particularly extraordinary quality.

The Lobi do not use masks, but create instead statues called ‘Bateba’ that play an essential role in their life and in the protection of every household. They also make sculpted heads, placed on the top of a post planted in the ground, and the altars of sacred houses are surrounded by a number of solemn looking statues with high foreheads. The eyelids are saggy; there is a distant look on the faces, and the nose is triangular and straight. The lips of some statues are deformed by the lip plate on the upper lip, worn by women in the past.

Each head of a family owns a three legged stool, that acts as a sign of their status and that they carry everywhere with them. There is also a smaller stool with a highly polished surface and patina that is associated with ‘thilduu’, a sacred room in the house that a man can install after the death of his father. In this room the maternal ancestor cults are worshiped in order that they watch over their descendants. Only men in this particular family position have the right to own this type of stool which is a sign of their autonomy and ritualistic responsibility. This stool is preserved in the ‘thilduu’ and used during certain ceremonies concerning the family group. At the death of its owner, the stool is inherited by the son, designated head of the household and perpetuator of the relevant cults.

 

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