African Art/Western Art


Ancestor Shrine

NGUESSAN: Each of the ancestor chairs and stools in a shrine belonged to a different man who was a family head or to an important woman. Each family has its own adja (sacred family treasure). I have seen three of these ancestor stool rooms--my younger brother has probably never seen one. Each suitcase and package contains the gold and cloths left by a different individual. Women who are married to family heads know everything that is there and know which ancestor left it. Once I was present when they opened the separate packages because we were afraid some gold was missing. The cloths are different--I often see them because we take cloths we have inherited to give at the funerals of other family heads.

VOGEL: This is based on a noble family shrine that memorialized 13 male and female ancestors. The stools that eventually enter ancestor shrines are usually those used by the person in life. Chairs with backs usually belong to male ancestors; the round stools are called "women's stools." The glazed pitcher is a type made in Europe and exported to Africa throughout the 19th century. By the end of the century, these pitchers were called ondoman in Baule and were prestige vessels for drinking palm wine. When the elders who owned them died, they were placed in ancestor shrines. Cool water for the ancestors is renewed every few days. The trunks and wooden boxes enclose worked gold, gold dust and textiles that each ancestor has left to the family. On rare occasions, key family members may gather to open the bundles and inspect their contents to be sure they are unharmed, but decades may pass without anyone seeing the gold objects they contain.

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