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
Other types of Batebas identified include:
NOTE: There are various opinions and views about the name / use / function of the different bateba figures.
Common features among all bateba figures:
Sub-type variations (Bateba Yadawura - Sad / Mourning Bateba):