Senufo-Koulango Region, Ivory Coast: Shrine Figure of a Young Woman Standing on a Stool. Carved wood with dark patina, early 20th century. The figure has an upward, stylized coiffure, and is decorated with geometric scarification on its neck, temples and torso.
The Senufo and their Baule neighbors believe that before people are born into this world they have a spouse in the other world, and that these spouses occasionally become angry or jealous and disturb the lives of their living partners. When this happens, a diviner recommends that an altar be established where the spirit may receive offerings and be appeased. The carved figure of the "spirit spouse" should be beautiful in order to please the spirit and attract it to the shrine.
The female "spirit spouse" figure shown here expresses the ideas of physical beauty and moral virtue. The erect bearing indicates a morally upright person; the open eyes and high forehead suggest intelligence and lucidity. The hands held obediently at the sides and the modest stance of the feet give the figure a respectful attitude that shows good character. Physical perfection is shown in the healthy body, the strong neck able to bear heavy loads on the head, and the muscular calves of the hard worker. The pointed breasts and rounded buttocks signify maturity and sexual attractiveness, and thus the promise of children. The unusual pose, standing on a stool, may also indicate that this "spirit spouse" is of important social position.
The sculpture is attached to a custom-made wooden base.