Waaga (Grave Marker Figure)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:

Among the Konso of Ethiopia, bravery is considered a virtue. Men who have hunted and slain dangerous animals or threatening enemies are considered heroes. When one such hero dies, a stone is placed atop their grave.

If he was a wealthy or senior member of the Konso, this stone would be accompanied by a group of carved figures known as waaga or waka in some sources. These figures are sculpted from very hard wood and created during the hero’s lifetime. While they are predominantly on the graves of men, they can also be found on the graves of some women.

The Konso, along with the Gato and Ometo, are also known to have wooden tombstones depicting the deceased who lay beneath. Grave poles are also not uncommon. These represent dead men who have killed multiple men in battle or successfully hunted a lion or leopard.

Konso burial grounds are usually found at the entrance to the village so the funeral sculptures are visible to all. It is hoped that these symbols of bravery will inspire the next generation.

Distinguishing Features

  • Pole-shaped figure
  • Crested coiffure
  • Phallic forehead ornament
  • Tubular eyes
  • Straight nose
  • Arms alongside body
  • Carved bracelets (denoting senior Gada rank and hero-status)
  • Carved penis
  • Weathered surface
  • When new, figure is painted red ochre
    • Bone (or ostrich eggshell) eyes and teeth
    • Black eyebrows and beard
  • Figure sometimes carries a shield and spear

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