the Fragmentary Ancestors

Today the youth board went to see the Fragmentary Ancestors’ exhibition which opened on the 25th of October; the exhibition displays the clay figurines made by the people of Koma Land, in the North of Ghana.

During certain times of the year, the Northern Ghana region is inaccessible leading many of the local people to nickname the geographical area “overseas”.  Therefore, the Koma people were discovered at a later stage, almost like a “late discovery”. It is interesting to see the artefacts’ sentiment to the history and culture of the Koma people and, although many of the local adults revered the objects with respect, referring to them as ‘kuring kuring balli’ meaning ‘children of ancient times’; local, Ben Baluri Saibu, describes how “as a child he would play with figurines and ceramics” never really acknowledging their religious importance for example, we saw a statuette of a chameleon, an animal that in Koman culture has extremely negative connotations and is an omen of death.

In April 1981 these figurines began to get the recognition they deserve.  During this year, there was a “sudden gold rush” as both villagers and tourists began to plunder the village, digging up and selling the figurines.  However, Ben Baluri Saibu, in an attempt to maintain his community’s culture took five figurines to the National Museum in Accra.  The artefacts’ arrival was met with immense interest as people began to gain an insight into the true significance of these fascinating objects.  Eventually the figurines attracted the attention of the University of Ghana, Legon who began to do a sampling excavation in Yikpabongu.

As a youth board, we felt that we had discovered a refreshingly personal example of history.  Amongst our favourite objects was a wooden power figurine named Nkisi Mangaaka that villagers stuck knives into to provide protection.  We also found the statuette of the combined human and bird interesting; this object supposedly represented a witch who would fly out at night to capture peoples’ souls and was used in witchcraft ceremonies.

Charlotte, Emma Su & Eleanor

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