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Terracotta
from Northern Ghana (Komaland)
and the Côte d'Ivoire

 

 



 

 

Komaland Janus head,
terracotta
Côte d'Ivoire North West Statues,
terracotta
Ghana Museums & Monuments Board Musée national d'Abidjan (Côte d'Ivoire)
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Provenance I Characteristics I The urgency of the situation I Legislation I Sources

 

--Provenance  
 

Terracotta, Komaland region, in the far North of Ghana.

Terracotta, Odienné region, North-West Côte d'Ivoire; stone statues, Central and Western Côte d'Ivoire.

--Characteristics  
 

In Ghana and the Côte d'Ivoire, terracotta sculptures have been found in burial mounds on the same latitude.

In 1985, excavations by the University of Ghana in the North of the country brought to light the remains of a culture which appears to have flourished from the 14th century to the 18th century. Investigations of burial grounds have brought to light anthropomorphic and zoomorphic sculptures in terracotta, both intact and in fragments. Most of these items are made from a mixture of clay and sand, of dark and granular appearance, although some are in yellow and finely textured earthenware.

In most cases these are isolated heads, from 7 cm to 24 cm high, whose base is either broad or pointed. Whole human figures measuring between 14 cm and 55 cm have also been discovered. Some are highly ornate and represent personsin static posture, hands on knees. Others are dressed in clothing with pompons and sleeves, and are armed with daggers. Some effigies are Janus style or bear faces side by side on the same body. This is a special feature of these finds. Animal representations are few but extremely varied.

In all of these works, the same details of facial features and ornamentation are worked in high relief. Incisions emphasise beards and ornaments. The eye is globular, rimmed by heavy eyelids in earthen strips. Nostrils and ears are perforated.

In the Côte d'Ivoire, the archaeological material consists of terracotta statuettes of human forms and animals. Fragments of all parts of the body have been found, ranging from heads on tubular necks, to arms decorated with spirally wound bracelets, and hands. In Central and Western Côte d'Ivoire, carved, generally oval, faces in stone of porous appearance,
have also been found.

 

--The urgency of the situation  
 

In the year following the first official excavations, archaeological sites in Ghana were looted, and the so-called Komaland terracottas appeared in ever-increasing quantity on the art markets of Dakar, Paris and New York.

Items from the Côte d'Ivoire are identified as such only by chance discoveries, made during illegal excavations and left in the Abidjan museum. Nothing is known about the societies that made these objects, and the current extent of looting gives every reason to fear that everything will be destroyed.

 


National and international legislation protecting these objects:
 

Ghana:
- National Museum Regulations, 1973, 26 March 1973.

Côte d'Ivoire:
- Law No. 87-806 of 28 July 1987 concerning the protection of the cultural heritage.
- UNESCO Convention of 1970 on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, ratified by Côte d'Ivoire on 30 October 1990, in force on 30 January 1991.
- Unidroit convention on Stolen or illegally exported cultural goods, signed by the Côte d'Ivoire, on adoption in Rome of the text of 24 June 1995.

 

--Sources  
 

- James Anquandah, 1987 : « L'art du Komaland. Une découverte récente au Ghana septentrional », Arts d'Afrique Noire, n° 62, pp. 11-18, ill.
- Book review : « James Anquandah, Laurent van Ham, Discovering the forgotten 'civilization' of Komaland, Northern Ghana », African Arts, 1987, vol. XX, n° 2.
- Jean Polet, Professeur / Professor, Université de Paris I-Panthéon Sorbonne, France.
- Yaya Savané, Conservateur en chef / Chief Curator, Musée national d'Abidjan, Cent objets disparus. Pillage en Afrique / One Hundred Missing Objects. Looting in Africa, ICOM, 1994, réimpression mise à jour / updated reprint 1997, p. 94.
- Samuel Sidibé, 1995 : « Problèmes de gestion et de conservation du patrimoine archéologique : l'expérience malienne » / « Problems concerning the management and Conservation of Archaeological Heritage. The Malian Experience », Le trafic illicite des biens culturels en Afrique / Illicit Traffic of Cultural Property in Africa, ICOM.
- UNESCO
- UNIDROIT.

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