Burkina Faso; Lobi peoples

Bateba (figure)

Wood, H. 62.9 x W. 14.6 x D. 12.1 cm
The Stanley Collection, X1986.343


Since these beautiful figures were first published in the 1979 catalogue of the Stanley Collection, important research has been carried out among the Lobi by Piet Meyer, representing the Museum Rietberg in Zurich, and published in 1981 in an exhibition catalogue of Lobi art. Such figures are called bateba , and serve as intermediaries between protective spirits, Thila, and men. The bateba belong to Thil and can carry out their orders, holding out an arm to prevent the entrance of evil into the household, or flying through the night to warn of danger. "The objects defend the territory against evil intruders like witches and sorcerers. Their jurisdiction of the shrine on which they are placed extends generally to the house of the extended family" (Meyer 1984). Meyer states clearly that in Wourbira, where he carried out most of his research, bateba do not represent ancestors, but he also noted that, according to other scholars, around Kampti, they can represent "returned people" who died several generations back. I myself have found that, in the Gaoua area, northeast of Kampti, bateba are always associated with ancestral spirits. It seems quite clear the traditions of meaning vary considerably throughout Lobi country, and that it is impossible to generalize. However, whether the spirits in question are ancestral or not, it appears generally to be true that their function is to protect the owners from harm. Piet Meyer writes: "As big statues like these were often carved in pairs of male/female figures, we may someday find the two female figures that originally accompanied these two males" (Meyer 1984).

Professor Christopher D. Roy, School of Art and Art History, University of Iowa