Nsodia (Funerary Portrait Head)

Twifo Hemang

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Nsodia (meaning ‘thing placed on top’; also called Mma, Nkua or Ohoni Ti) heads are idealised and stylised depictions of deceased Akan royalty, chiefs or priests. Opinions vary about the actual use of the heads. Some sources state that the heads were created to represent deceased chiefs in burial and funerary celebrations while others point to the heads as focal effigies for commemorative rites (representing a vessel which encapsulates the wisdom, knowledge and experience of the deceased leader).

Nsodie heads were believed be be created by elderly female artists after the death of a prominent leader and placed in asenie (meaning ‘place of pots’) shrines on the outskirts of towns, locations at which villagers would make offering to the dead through the collection of nsodie heads. Other sources point to the fact that nsodie heads could also have been effigies for deities and divinity (abosom) which served as intermediary communicators between the realm of the living and divinity.

What is generally agreed however is that nsodie heads are not exact representations of leaders past but instead depict certain characteristics of the deceased (such as the individuals hairstyle or scarification marks).

Distinguishing Features

Common features among all nsodie:

    • Made of clay
    • Size = from between 3 - 11 inches to life-size representation of head
    • Free standing, hollow heads
    • Highly schematic to naturalistic faces
        • Heads personalised with scarification marks, hairstyles and/or attachments like hair from the deceased chief
        • Elongated & expansive
        • Calm and serene facial features
        • Facial features added in relief

Regional variations (Twifo region / Hemang town):

    • Red or ochre earth colour
    • Height = 14 - 25 cm
    • Egg-like shaped head
    • Natural rendering of face
        • Forehead high and sloping with elaborate hairstyle
        • Semi-circular eyebrows (sometimes finely incised to show hair texture)
        • Coffee bean eyes (often closed)
        • Eye bisected by horizontal lines
        • Small nose
        • Mouth mirrors form of eyes
        • Clam & serene facial expression
        • Scarification seldom shown. Where it is shown, it’s usually a vertical mark on forehead
    • Horizontal rings on neck (representing neck creases)

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