Senufo Rhythm Pounder Couple, Ivory Coast
height of male: 56in (142cm); height of female: 50in (127cm)
ndebele, each standing on circular bases, hands to pelvic area and cylindrical handles on the head.
Field collected by Michel Huguenin, 1970's
Private Collection of Morton Dimonstein, Los Angeles
Thence by descent
Ciram Carbon-14 Test Report
Report by Prof. Dr. Till Förster, Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Basel, Switzerland:
This couple is exceptional in many ways. First, they probably date back to a time long before the arrival of Europeans in the West Africa savannah. Radiocarbon dating suggests that the wood is from the second half of the 18th century. The calibrated dating produces a probability of 46.7% for the period 1758 through 1804 AD (see laboratory report). Assuming that the sculpture was created around this period or slightly later, the couple is one of the oldest wooden sculptures known from the West African savannah. It competes with the Tellem and early Dogon figures in the Bandiagara escarpment in today's Mali where the climate is much dryer and wood by far less affected by insects and decomposition processes. This couple is likely to come from the wet savannah of what is today northern Côte d'Ivoire or southern Mali with its long and heavy rainy season that lasts from May through October. The environmental conditions for organic material usually do not favor the preservation of wooden sculpture. To my knowledge, there is no other object from this region that has a similar age
The oldest Senufo sculptures are often attributed to the region of Folona, a landscape that extents today across the Malian-Ivoirian frontier, and its immediate vicinities to the West and the South. The earliest references to other Senufo art works may be sought here where many villages still had their poro societies by the end of the 19th century.
The couple shows a generic Senufo style. The statues' stylistic characteristics do not allow to attribute the art works to a particular workshop, but because of the iconography, it is possible to situate the two figures in a broader context, that is the production of dogele statues for the celibele subgroup of the Senufo. Until the 1980s, the production of such works was an exceptional event, practiced by carvers that did not receive regular commissions for such statues. The oeuvre of individual carvers specializing in dogele statues was always limited to only a handful of pairs until the tourist market began to stimulate a higher demand. Statues of this kind, however, were only used by celibele Senufo. During funerals, there were first put on the right and left of the corpse where they remained during the ritual acts that transformed the deceased into an ancestor. These acts consisted mainly of enveloping the corpse in cloth that the relatives of the deceased had received as condolence gifts. When the elders of the deceased's family sew the corpse into the fabrics, relatives and friends danced around the scene, accompanied by xylophone orchestras.
After the end of the rite, the corpse was carried by the initiates of the poro society to the grave. During this procedure, which was often interrupted because it was assumed that the deceased would refuse to be brought to the graveyard, other members of poro took the statues, pounding them on the ground in front of the corpse. Because of their use, the statues were simply called dogele, "pestles" by the initiates. The entire rite had to be completed until sunset, and usually, it ended when the sun just disappeared at the horizon.
The two statues show all the signs of the funerary usage. The handles on top of the heads and also the arms where the members of poro held and grabbed the figures have a fine patina, while the bases are not affected by insects or humidity. Other big standing figures of the Senufo, in particular those used by farmers during their funerary rights, were not moved but stood upright at the place of the funerary rites with their bases dug somewhat into the ground. The bases of these statues, which are called poro piibele in the vernacular, are very often rotten and badly affected by the humidity of the soil. The rhythm pounders, however, usually show intact bases because they were not left outside and only used on the occasion of the burial day of the funerary rites.
Dr. Förster is a professor at the Centre for African Studies at the University of Basel and a recognized expert on the Senufo. He wrote extensively about this Senufo pair. These previous paragraphs are excerpts from his essay. For a copy of the complete report, please see link under sale details above, or contact the department.