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Moba

Location: NE Ghana and NW Togo
Population: Estimated 500,000

Arts and History: Knowledge of the Moba as a culture is based almost entirely on their famous abstract wooden figures known as "tchitcheri." These amazingly simple but powerful carvings are "prescribed" by the diviner when normal ancestral offerings fail to produce a desired outcome. Their exposure to the elements allows many of these figures to acquire a breathtaking, weathered surface, giving them a ghostly, alien appearance. Since the turn of the century, it has been thought that the owners of tchitcheri carved the statues themselves. Recent studies have shown however that specialized artists carve the figures, once they have been commissioned by the diviner. In addition to the tchitcheri, the Moba also carve chunky, abstract stools which acquire a similar patina. The size of the "tchitcheri" can range from under 10 inches to 60 inches, and their size can give us information on the how the figures were used and where they were placed. The smallest figures are for personal use and are known as "yendu." Placed in personal shrines, which all adults possess, these small carvings do not represent individual ancestors, but function as an owner's direct link with god. During non-agricultural periods, Moba men will sometimes forge these personal tchitcheri out of iron. These are likewise placed on personal shrines, as well as used for currency in rare instances. The mid-sized carvings, known as "bawoong," are kept in a family compound shrine, and these represent recent family ancestors, like grandparents, and thus some may actually have facial features. The family consults directly with these figures for guidance. The largest tchitcheri, known as "sakwa," evoke the memory and protection of the clan's founding member, and are found outside, exposed to the elements. These largest of figures will receive offerings, chants, and libations in order to maintain social order and guarantee a good harvest. Little is known about the history of the Moba. The fact that they speak a Gur dialect probably indicates a western Sudanese origin via the Benue River basin. Though limited to stools and the mysterious tchitcheri, Moba artworks have acheived an enduring mystique among modern collectors. See Kreamer, "Moba Shrine Figures," 1978.

 

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