The Lobi Tribe

The Lobi Tribe inhabit the western region of Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast. They speak a Gur language of the Niger-Congo family. The Lobi migrated into Burkina Faso from present day Ghana around 1770, and many of them crossed the border into present day Ivory Coast over the next hundred years or so in search of uncultivated lands. Although Lobi villages are often very independent and politically unstructured (governing through a clan system instead) they managed to put up a strong resistance to French colonization.

Lobi villages are spread out and the peoples often intermingle. It is often difficult to distinguish one from another geographically. Yet, due to village affiliation with an individual thil, it is possible to define community boundaries. The thil, who is recognized as the head of the community, expresses prohibitions through a religious diviner, which must be obeyed by the village inhabitants. Each village is independent, and the prohibitions enforced in one area may be completely ignored in the next.

Lobi people believe that at one time they lived in a metaphorical Garden of Eden at one with their god and wanted for nothing. However, as their numbers began to increase, men began to fight one another over women, and as a result their god turned his back on them. Not wanting them to be completely lost, He sent forth thila to take care of the people. The thila are contacted through a diviner who delivers their messages, demands, and prohibitions to the people. The village thil is embodied in a village shrine but, since thila may leave the shrines, they are often uninhabited. Below the thila cosmologically, yet above men, are numerous nature spirits. The Lobi are able freely to distinguish between the nature spirits and the thila based on a series of factors, which at first seem quite confusing to the outsider.

Lobi artworks are enigmatic. Their ceramics are often known as storage vessels--being among the most prized in Africa. Pottery was made by women and almost all of them are the wives of blacksmiths. Additionally, there are only a dozen or so large blacksmith families in the region, of whom the best known are the Kientega and the Bamogo families. A visitor to a village in Burkina Faso may quickly find his way to the neighborhood where women are making pottery, and their husbands are forging iron tools. The vessels are metaphors for the protective, nurturing character of the body of a woman. Just as a woman's body protects the fetus, so too, the clay vessel protects grain and water from spoilage and disease.



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