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Friday, September 30, 2011

Bamana Boli vs. Ile-Ife Oni

During this course we have discussed a lot about multiplicity of meaning, symbolism, and spiritual qualities. All of these characteristics can be found throughout the majority of different cultures we have studied and the art they create. There seems to be close relationships between a lot of the African art we have studied; the Bamana boli and Ile-Ife oni sculpture can serve as example of the similarities in art between cultures.

The boli figures, made by the Bamana people of Mali, are considered to be one of the most important power objects in the society. They are made up of wood, clay, and an accumulation of sacrificial materials. Some of these materials include blood, semen, nails and other sacrificial elements. The power of the boli figure increases with each additional layer, which are each added as an offering to the spirits. These figures were often used for religious purposes, such as portable altarpieces, as well as protection for the community. While I was doing more research on the boli, I read an interesting interpretation on the materials used to create these figures. It was suggested that the materials used on the outside of the boli represented the contents of a humans stomach, while the inner materials of the figure represented a humans exterior, thus making the boli a representation of a human turned inside out. They are very amorphous and abstract figures. Generally, they take the shape of a bull; however, they can take on many other shapes as well.  Abstraction is one of the many connections between the boli figures and the oni sculptures of the Ile-Ife.

            The terra cotta oni sculpture of the Ile-Ife has many similarities to the boli figures. Despite the naturalization of the oni figure, there is still a great deal of abstraction that can be seen, which is similar to the abstraction seen in the boli. The Ile-Ife peoples abstract the proportions of the king, emphasizing the size of the head as a visual representation of spiritual belief. The enlarged head is said to have been linked to the idea that the head was where the soul was located.  However, the meaning behind the abstraction is different between the oni sculpture and the boli figures. The abstraction of the boli isn’t as closely related to spiritual aspects of their culture as the oni is. Outside of just an visual similarity, both figures have significant spiritual purpose and meaning in common as well. While the oni sculpture seems to exemplify a much more positive aura, versus the sacrificial material of the boli, they both are meant to represent or embody a sacred power.
            Even though sculptures may come from many different cultural backgrounds, they still tend to have many similarities, especially in their inclusion of symbolism and relationship to spiritual beliefs. This can be seen throughout many cultures and in many aspects of life.


  1. Interesting choice of objects, and well-constructed and developed essay.

  2. I enjoyed reading what you wrote about the further explanation of the boli figures, that, "the outside of the boli represented the contents of a humans stomach, while the inner materials of the figure represented a humans exterior, thus making the boli a representation of a human turned inside out." These little figures are so fascinating!

  3. I really enjoyed your choice of objects to compare. I find these objects very interesting and thought about doing these comparisons for my blog as well. I agree with your statement about the Ile-Ife sculpture being abstracted in a much different way than the Bamana boli. Although it is abstracted differently and puts an emphasis on different parts of the object there is still plenty of things that are similar between the two, which comes down to both of the peoples' spiritual beliefs behind the objects. Not necessarily that they both have the same spiritual belief, but that they both have spiritual beliefs behind the object.