Bateba Duntundara (Witch Protection Figure)

Bateba Ti Bala (Anomalous Bateba)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The Lobi believe that the universe was created by the god Tangba, under which sit a number of deities and spirits called Thila (sing. Thil). Under these Thila are the spirits of the bush, Kontuossi, after which human beings follow. The village lives of a Lobi community are governed by a specific Thil. In addition to the overall community Thil, each compound within the village has its own associated Thil governing the spiritual and social behaviours of household members.

Villagers pray to Thila to gain wealth, cure illnesses but more importantly, to protect themselves from witchcraft and harm. However villagers cannot directly communicate with the Thila of the community or household. They must make use of altar based figures called bateba in the towns of the Birifor and thilbia in the towns of the Lobi (meaning 'wooden carved figure'; a physical representations of Thil) which act as intermediaries between the human world and the spirit world of the Thila. Once placed in an altar (be it a village altar or an individual household altar), the bateba figure becomes inhabited by the appropriate Thil spirit.

The carvers of bateba figures have no special status within the community and receive little or no payment for completed carvings (unlike carvers in other African ethnic groups). As such, this leads to a wide variety of styles, forms and finishes of bateba figures. The final appearance of a bateba figure is irrelevant to the Lobi. What IS important is that the carving depicts a human form.

There are a number of different bateba types however it’s important to note that according to French ethnographer Julien Bosc, "for the Lobi, there exists no classification of various forms and attitudes of the different thilbia [bateba]… a statuette with a particular form can signify different things depending on its owner, and the same signification can be accomplished with different statuettes whose attitudes are different in every respect”.1 Bateba figures are found in a variety of styles, sizes and forms usually indicating the function of the figure. There are three main recognised types of bateba;2

  • Bateba duntundara (Witchcraft protection). These include the sub-types of:
    • Bateba phuwe (Ordinary): Used to provide the owner with general protection from witchcraft
    • Bateba bambar (Paralysed; also referred to as thilbou gbamgbar): Used to protect the household from witchcraft and illness (i.e. paralysis)
    • Bateba ti bala (Anatomically anomalous / janus head; also referred to as thil dokra or thilbou you yenyo): Believed to possess special powers and abilities (such as sight in all directions) due to their unusual external appearance. Used to protect against sorcery
    • Bateba ti puo (Dangerous; also referred to as thilbou nyella or thilbou banyo): Used to block the entrance of harmful forces from the village and household
  • Bateba betise (Couple): Used by single men to find suitable partners
  • Bateba yadawura (Sad / mourning; also referred to as yadawora or yadawara): Used to mourn for their owners. They help ease the load of the owner’s sadness by taking on some of the mourning and sadness

Other types of Batebas identified include:

  • Thilbou yo (Head stake; also referred to as Baathil): Use unknown
  • Thilbou khe mounkha (Maternity): Used for fertility purposes
  • Thilbou khe mambi (Maternity): Used for fertility purposes
  • Thilbou fi hin (Head turned): Used to protect against enemies

NOTE: There are various opinions and views about the name / use / function of the different bateba figures.

Distinguishing Features

Common features among all bateba figures:

  • Made of wood
  • Complete representation of a human with all body parts
  • Highly simplified representation of human figure
  • Heads usually enlarged
  • Variety of heights. According to Julien Bosc there are four categories of bateba grouped by size:1
    • Bobothila: Height <= 10 cm (used for divination and kept in a goatskin bag)
    • Thilbou-bia: Height = 10 - 20 cm
    • Thilbou-manainni sono: Height = 20 - 50 cm
    • Thilbou kotina: Height > 60 cm

Sub-type variations (Bateba Ti Bala - Anomalous Bateba):

  • Anatomically anomalous; can have one or several of the following features:
    • Several heads, arms or legs
    • Head turned backwards
    • Janus headed figure
    • Two figures joined together
    • Only one arm or one leg
    • No torso

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