Pair of statues, bateba, Lobi, Burkina Faso
Height 67 and 59 cm
The Lobi are a farming people who live in south-west Burkina Faso, north Ivory Coast and north-west Ghana. The current population is between three and six hundred thousand (depending on sources). The men carve wood, forge iron and smelt copper. The women make pottery. Lobi society is subordinate to the thila (singular thil), invisible guardian genies who transmit their demands through diviners and sorcerers. It is the thil who dictate the prohibitions and demand the carving of bateba, wooden figures, for the village or household sanctuary. If the order is not followed, calamities can strike the village (epidemic, drought), and the fault of an individual can fall on the community as a whole.
In divination, bateba are responsible for passing on to the diviner the answers to the questions he asks the thila. They inform the diviner not only of the reasons why the consulted person has come to him, but also of the prescriptions for resolving the problem that was the subject of the consultation. The carving of a bateba may be one of the prescriptions.
The form and expression of Lobi statues are not the result of free work by the sculptor. They are the result of the will of the thila. These beings, sent to earth by the gods to protect mankind from hunger, disease and suffering, are responsible for determining the form the statue should take. It is they who, through the diviner, determine the shape, size, gender and attitude of the statue to be sculpted. These ‘objects’ are ‘receptacles’ for forces destined to release their energy on behalf of man.