Field spirits of the Fante
Published by Mot Juste, May 2021
‘Field spirits of the Fante’ describes the journey of nine wooden carvings from a field in Ghana’s Western Region to the Meek-Eaton Black Archives Research Center and Museum in Florida, USA.
Central to the story is professor Nana Araba Apt, a Ghanaian academic and an avid collector of African Art. She recognised the importance of the field spirits that were placed in the fields and around the homes of the Fante, part of the Akan people of the former Gold Coast in West Africa.
48 pages in color. 270 x 210mm
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Origin and use of field spirits in Ghana
The nine field spirits, or ‘batebas’, were created by Lobi craftsmen between 1870 and 1940, and were designed to protect flocks, crops, children, homes, hunters and providers. Although converted to Christianity, the Fante often held fast to ancient beliefs and superstitions. But creating pagan objects such as these spirits would have been frowned upon. Lobi woodcarvers, however, remained devoted to their traditional beliefs and their spirit figures were considered as living beings.
These nine carvings belonged to Nana’s paternal grandfather, a farmer near Cape Coast. When he stopped farming around 1950, the pieces were taken off the fields and kept in storage and later moved to Nana’s home in Accra. Left in the fields, these wooden carving would have been destroyed due to exposure to the environment and insects, particular termites. As a result, few field spirits were saved, making this collection unique.
The book describes how the collection was transported from Ghana to Michigan where Richard and his wife Marian Horowitz undertook the cleaning and preservation process and the decision to offer the collection to the Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University, an HBCU (Historical Black College or University) with a core mission in agriculture.
The publication of this book accompanies the collection at the Meek-Easton Black Archives Research Center and Museum of the Florida A&M University and seeks to encourage further research into the Fante myths and the relationship between them and the Lobi.
Images from top: Depicting a boxer, ‘Sentry to the home’, is ready to protect the owner’s property. This spirit is an example of late field spirits, as are the pieces on the following pages: ‘Warning to men who threaten the family, flocks or garden’, ‘Sentry to the fields’ and ‘Warning to women who threaten the family, flocks or garden’. They were all created between 1920 and 1940.
Warning to men who threaten the family, flocks or garden’ is rich with specific threats and potential interpretations. This pile of body parts includes evidence of recent and previous violence to several individuals. The spirit is actually more of a display of the grim consequence of trespass. It is reminiscent of how executed criminals and state prisoners were historically displayed throughout Europe and colonial Africa, as a warning to others by governments and powerful leaders or royalty.