Côte d’Ivoire; Anyi peoples

Mma (commemorative portrait)

Terracotta, H. 18.3 x W. 14.6 x D. 15.2
The Stanley Collection, X1986.580


Among the Sanwi subgroup of the Anyi near Krinjabo, and other groups in southern Ivory Coast and Ghana, fired clay figures and heads served to commemorate deceased men and women. The figures were considered to be portraits of the dead, with distinctive scars, hairstyles, beards, hats, jewelry, and other identifying characteristics carefully reproduced. The figures were modelled by a female potter who had known the deceased, and who stained the figure black and dressed it the day before the final funeral rites. The spirit of the deceased was invited to occupy the mma and it was deposited, with many other older figurines, in a special clearing in the forest (mmasso ). The figure was a concrete means of remembering the dead, a resting place for his soul. The figures could also encourage fertility in sterile women who tended the forest clearing and offered yam and manioc. The use of commemorative figures was, at first, restricted to nobility, but was later extended to any Sanwi except children (Amon d'Aby 1960:67 and in Vogel 1981:7879). This head bears the distinctive protruberant eyes with a deep horizontal slash that are characteristic of the Anyi style. The nose is extremely fine and thin, and the hairstyle is quite complex, consisting of several wedge-shapes that flare outward from the center of the skull. The most remarkable feature is the elaborate and colorful pattern of lines that remain on the cheeks and forehead, painted after the head was fired. There is a fine color photograph of the head in the catalogue of the de Havenon collection at the Museum of African Art in Washington (de Havenon 1971: no. 122).

Professor Christopher D. Roy, School of Art and Art History, University of Iowa