Translation of F. Kröger's German article:  Die Terrakotta-Funde des Koma-Gebietes (Nordghana). In: Paideuma 34, 129-142.


1. Discovery and exploration

The discovery and exploitation of the richest and probably most important archaeological finds in the settlement area of the Koma (northern Ghana) are a good example of the intertwining of commercial and scientific interests, the latter of which could not always successfully prevail against the former. While today the so-called "Koma terracottas" have become well-known in the circles of art dealers and lovers of African sculptures, the existence of the Koma or Komba ethnic group was not even known in the Africanist literature until the sixties of our [the 20th] century..

The reason for the Koma having become known so late may be due to the numerical smallness of this group and its geographic isolation. As the map shows, the Koma settlements lie between the Sisili and Kulpawn rivers, which have no bridges in this section [1] and in the rainy season crossing them, even with a jeep, is difficult. The ethnic group, according to my information, consists only of the five small villages, namely Yikpabongo, Barisi, Nangruma, Tantuolosi and Wuntubre, that are exclusively inhabited by Koma [2]. J. Anquandah and L. van Ham enumerate the settlements of Gubong, Zangbeyiri and Walimija as Koma villages [3]. In addition, there are Koma-sections in Mamprusi, Bulsa and Sisala settlements. The former Koma village of Nanguri has been abandoned for several years [4].The first academics to make contact with the Koma were English linguists, and in 1986 Tony Naden published what is probably the first essay to deal exclusively with Konni, the language of the Koma. He came to the conclusion that Konni is a distinct language within the Gur languages. Konni is particularly related to Buli and Mampruli, the languages of the neighbouring Bulsa and Mamprusi, but it is not so much related to Sisali, the language of the neighbouring Sisala. This no doubt means that Konni belongs to the subgroup of Moore- Dagbani within the Gur languages and not to the Grusi languages to which Sisali is attributed.

Ethnographically the Koma are still almost completely unexplored. Their linguistic affiliation with the Bulsa does not necessarily mean there are parallels in other areas, however. Visitors from Bulsaland will immediately discover differences in Yikpabongo: The fourteen large compounds [5] are not surrounded by arable land (compound-farms); the Koma tend mainly bush-farms outside the village. At night the cattle are not, as it is done in the Bulsa area, driven into the cattle yards within the compounds but into large cattle corrals with wooden fences in the open space between the farms.

One also does not discover the large earthen ancestral shrines in front of the compounds which are so characteristic of the Bulsa. The Koma ancestors are venerated in the compounds where one can observe small hemispherical ancestral mud shrines in front of the inner walls of a residential yard.

The reason for the Koma and Yikpabongo becoming known far beyond the borders of Ghana can be found in the late sixties or early seventies of our century. I was told in Yikpabongo that someone who had wanted to take mud from a pit for a house extension had found the first ceramic figures. Although it was assumed that they had been made by former residents of this area, there was no reason for a fearful taboo of these objects because the present Koma were certain that they were not created by their own ancestors. When the ancestors of today's residents of Yikpabongo came into this area, they found the ruins of an earlier occupation layer. According to J. Anquandah, they called the place Dzikpiebongo, which means "ruins in the forest".

In the years after the first accidental discovery of the terracotta figures, more old figures were unearthed, either accidentally or on purpose by the residents and were kept in the compounds or - as I witnessed - used by children as toys. That these figures have a certain commercial value was recognized when the first dealers came to Yikpabongo and bought up basins of unearthed terracottas for a few items of clothing or a little money or when some women noted that the figures were selling well in the market of Fumbisi for the equivalent of about one German Mark [6].

My own interest in the Koma terracottas arose out of my study of ancestor worship of the Bulsa. In 1978 I received information from an old blind man that Anaanateng and his wife, the supposed ancestors of all the indigenous groups of Bulsaland, are worshipped in Tandem Zamsa in the form of two "stone" (sic) images. A visit to Zamsa revealed that actually two terracotta heads which are claimed to represent Anaanateng and his wife are preserved in a stone hill about 1.50 m high and a few kilometres away from the compounds. They receive no sacrifices there but rather in ancestral shrines some distance away in the bush [7]. The religious power of these "representations of ancestors" is expressed by the fact that one may approach them only with a naked breast, which is otherwise only required by important earth-shrines (Buli: tenggbana). The larger of the two terracotta heads is attributed to the ancestor Anaanateng and is much weathered. The head of Anaanateng’s wife is similar to the Koma terracottas and has a very long neck and a hat, which was described by the old men of Zamsa as a cowrie-studded gourd helmet. About the origin of the terracottas the owners could not give me exact information, though they supposed that they "came down from heaven" (i.e. no one knows their origin).

The stone heap reminds us of a teng-earth shrine and the occasional characterization of this stone hill as “a kind of teng” permit at least mental associations with the earth-cult. This would not be surprising if the two heads had been found in the ground long ago.

Still, during my research visit in 1978, Howard Brant, a pastor and missionary who had built up a small Protestant community in Yikpabongo, gave me a first report on the Koma terracottas, which are not at all rare in Yikpabongo. There he had learned from experience that the population shows a certain respect and awe towards the old ceramic figures, although they do not have any significance in the religious cults of the Koma [8]. My decision to go to Yikpabongo on my motorbike was prevented in 1978, 1979 and 1981 due to the high water level of the Sisili River.

Then my interest in the Koma terracottas caused one of my well-meaning friends from the Bulsaland to send a terracotta head to my German address in 1983. Before the head was sent back through the Ghanaian embassy in Bonn to the National Museum of Ghana, a thermoluminescence analysis could be made in April of 1984 by the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg. The TL age was calculated to be 405 + 135 years. During another stay in Bulsaland in the dry July of 1984, I succeeded in reaching Yikpabongo by way of Wiesi. There I was able to photograph and also partly measure 42 terracottas, most of which came from the two chiefs’ compounds. Most of these figures were damaged because they had been improperly dug out with a hoe. A week after the Yikpabongo visit, I went to the Department of Archaeology at the University of Ghana (Legon / Accra) to report on the terracottas and submitted the results of the TL-examination as evidence of the antiquity of the figures. The head of the Department of Archaeology, Prof. James Anquandah, had not yet heard about the Koma terracottas. But in a short time he obtained a cordon of the area by the state authorities, and in March 1985 the first excavations began under his leadership. At first the team dug in four mounds located near Yikpabongo. The assumption that the mounds were tombs was confirmed by skeletal remains mixed with terracottas, which then needed to be designated as grave goods. The number of figures per grave has so far varied between 19 and 258. In addition, other grave goods including grinding stones, clay pots (also serving as headrests of the dead persons), knives, arrowheads, brass/bronze objects and cowries (Cypraea annulus) have been found. In connection with the grave sites, stone circles were discovered which were, according to J. Anquandah, similar to those that occur in Senegambia. The excavations, which had been so successful, came to a halt after the first dry season when it was discovered that, despite the barriers, figures had been sold abroad. On the recommendation of J. Anquandah, the government took over complete control of the excavation area . It is to be hoped, however, that the excavations of 1985 may be taken up again early in 1988 under expert guidance.

2. Attempts at interpretations

As indicated above, Koma-terracottas are grave goods which were also found in the mound heaped over the grave. Probably they were laid on the grave by the funeral attendees during the heaping up of the mound. But nevertheless many questions remain unresolved, especially those related to details of the depicted people and things. Here, only some of the outstanding problems are outlined and some possible, tentative answers offered for reconsideration. Perhaps the question of the function of the long terracotta “necks” can most easily be answered. Although there are terracotta heads from Nok and the Niger Inland Delta whose extended necks were stuck into the opening of an associated body, this explanation is unlikely for the very large number of long-necked heads of the Koma region since the neck has no support for a continuous rotary motion between head and body (it could be clamped at most) and especially because, for the hundreds of long-necked heads, no corresponding bodies were found. One interpretation is that the heads, with their long, tapered necks, were stuck right down into the ground or - to me more likely - into a small mound which should represent the body. So, for example, this is done by the Lobi with their sacred long-necked wooden heads that gain a hold in the clay hills in this way. Also, the Bulsa fix spherical stones in which they worship the wen, the divine power of the ancestors, into a clay base, which they describe as the body of the ancestors while the stone is considered the head. Although the Koma terracottas of Janus-heads have a smooth base, the single-faced heads end in a "peg", which may have static reasons because in the strictly symmetrical Janus-heads, the centre of gravity can more easily be brought over the relatively small base than is the case with the asymmetrical, single-faced heads, which would easily tip over to the side of the face. Approximately in the middle of the long neck or body (?) a wart-shaped bulge is found in many representations. It is not clearly determinable whether this is the Adam's apple (as it is also represented in some Inland Niger Delta figures) or the protruding navel. Therefore, the representation of the bulge does not contribute to answering the question of whether the downward tapering "cones" portray an elongated neck or the trunk of a body.

In addition to the long "necks", the concave shapes of the skulls of the single-faced heads and figures are considered typical characteristics of the Koma terracottas. The significance of these bowl-shaped depressions cannot, in my opinion, be explained as a realistic depiction of a cap or a hat. They probably have a similar function as the bowls, which are to be found in front of a few female figures (with normally shaped heads). For similar depictions of the Niger Inland Delta terracottas, Bernard de Grunne gives the explanation that they may represent offering bowls.

This interpretation might also be true for the two bowls of female figures and the Koma bowl-shaped skulls of many male figures. It is possible that this interpretation can be applied even to the open mouths of the Janus heads and those of most animals because, once again, the three features - the concave shape of the skull, the bowls in front of a figure and a wide open mouth - exclude each other among the excavated figures so that an identical function of the three cavities can be surmised. As concerns the mouth, our assumption would again meet with de Grunne’s interpretation, which he offers for a hollow Djenné figure. He writes about this figure:

... Sa bouche servirait d'orifice pour y faire des offrandes et il synthéserait bien à la fonction de réceptacle à offrandes et celle d'image de la personnalité à qui on rendait le culte.

Another argument in favour of the similar functional meaning of the "head-bowls" and the wide-open mouths is the fact that small 5-10 mm long slits are consistently located in both. The manufacturer probably pressed a small mud particle the size of a grain of rice into the middle of the bowl or the mouth and then cut a slit with a knife-like device to create lip-shaped edges to both sides of the slit. This characteristic, by which the Koma terracottas can easily be identified, can be seen on almost any figure.

The question about the meanings of these slits must probably remain unanswered for the moment or be confined to pure speculation. J. Anquandah and L. van Ham see them as images of cowrie-shells, and indeed some representations resemble cowries. Nevertheless, I cannot agree with this interpretation for the following two reasons:

1. Some figures bear ample cowrie-decoration, e.g. as earrings or as the trim on helmets. These representations of cowries differ significantly from those shapes represented in the head and mouth.

2. Some terracottas, mainly those figures designated as type II, do not show a slit with "lips" but just a round hole in the concave skull about one centimetre deep. I would like to equate the function and meaning of this hole, which in no way resembles a stylized cowrie, with the above-described elongated slits.

J. Anquandah’s and L. van Ham’s interpretation that the representations described here can also be symbols of fertility cannot be entirely dismissed, however, because their visual proximity to female sexual organs is obvious. In keeping with this line of thought, the contour shapes of the long-necked Janus heads can also be interpreted as phallic. They correspond almost completely to the Bulsa flute shapes, interpreted by the Bulsa as phallic symbols. Perhaps there is even a relationship between the phallic shapes and a piece of information that Susan Drucker Brown, a specialist of Mamprusi culture, gave me in a letter in 1984: Within the old Mamprusi kingdom it was customary to castrate royal slaves in the area of Yikpabongo.

In trying to understand the terracottas, the question of determining who the human and animal sculptures should represent is of utmost importance. Their discovery in grave mounds, their highly stylized representations and the previously attempted interpretation of singlecomponents suggest not only that their function is to be found in the sacral area but that they also represent supernatural beings. If we consider that the great divine beings, the deities of heaven and earth, are generally not depicted in West Africa, it is quite probable that here ancestors and/or anthropomorphic spirits were represented. The latter supposisiton seems probable when considering the fantastic figures with two heads or upper bodies and manifold Janus variations. These point in the direction of the preceding assumption, as do the figurative wood sculptures of the Lobi called thila, i.e. invisible beings standing between God and men which are more or less anthropomorphic, with several heads, Janus-faced or bearing other physical peculiarities. Of the many categories of friendly and malignant spirits which are often associated in some way with the bush, its vegetation and fauna, two main types can be distinguished in some of the ethnic groups neighbouring the Koma:

1. One category of spirits is associated with wild animals, i.e. they may be incarnated in certain animals, often chameleons, lizards or snakes. Among the Bulsa, a man who kills one of these beings possessed by a spirit (Buli jadok, pl. ngandoksa) has to shape an image of this animal as a free-standing sculpture or a bas-relief in clay and hence make offerings to this new shrine. Among the Koma terracottas, there are not only quite a few representations of animals, e.g. birds, snakes and crocodiles, but some of the anthropomorphic figures have faces that resemble those of animals more than those of humans. Also pure animal figures consistently have an open mouth with the slit described above. Therefore they seem to have had a function similar to that of the purely anthropomorphic figures.

2. The second category of spirits, which in an unappeased state can become dangerous for people, is evidenced in many Gur-speaking peoples with names that are even etymologically related, e.g. in Kasem: kyikyiri; in Kusal: kikirig, pl. kikiris; in Frafra: kenkirego, pl. kenkito and in Moore kinkiriga, pl. kinkirisi. The Bulsa distinguish between the spirit kikerik (pl. kikerisa) and the kikiruk (pl. kikita), a person in whom such a being has been incarnated. The criteria that suspect a person of being a kikiruk are based primarily on physical deformities and peculiarities, such as an extremely short stature, more or fewer than five fingers or toes on a hand or foot, a cleft pallatte, etc. Twins are almost always suspected of being kikita. For the Koma terracottas, it is certainly hard to tell whether certain representations of body parts, such as hands that start right on the trunk of the body (see type IIb2), may be understood as physical deformities or whether they reflect a strong artistic abstraction. Still less can be said about the representation of bodies which anatomically reflect different forms of “Siamese twins” and are thus automatically associated with twins or a twin cult, for the duplications of body parts, usually of the face or head, are found in the representations of many ethnic groups in West Africa and mostly other conceptual ideas are expressed by this duplication.

In the leather-covered double masks of the Ekoi, the faces looking in different directions have partly contrasting features (light and dark, open and closed eyes, etc.) and so, by popular interpretations, express contrary ideas: future-past, life-death, male-female, etc. In contrast to these, the Janus figures of the Koma are strictly symmetrical, i.e. the two faces are usually perfectly alike. In addition, the motif of doubling body parts has achieved an abundance of variations in the Koma terracottas, which, despite some similarities to the wooden sculptures of the Lobi, can hardly be found in another group of West Africa. In addition to the "classical" Janus heads (two faces looking in different directions), we find heads with four faces, all of them looking in different directions, or bodies with two heads, each of them having two faces, two of which are looking in the same direction. Finally, there are slightly curved ceramic discs with four faces and only four eyes together, which lie almost in one plane [9]. One face can even lie over another one (type IIIb), i.e. the symmetry axis lies between the two pairs of eyes. All of these artistic manifestations of a very lively imagination do not facilitate an interpretation but lead in the direction indicated above, which is that the terracottas can represent superhuman spirits worshipped by humans, while in my opinion, at least for the janiform figures, the possibility of an ancestral representation can be dropped.

3. Comparative observations on material culture

While West Africa as a whole is extraordinarily rich in figurative representations in wood, clay and metal, Northern Ghana has so far, neither in the field of wood carving nor in terracotta manufacture, offered artistic excellence, though the Lobi, who now almost entirely live on the territories of Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast, are an exception. The few wooden sculptures of Northern Ghana are usually fairly simple, and many ethnic groups do not know figure and mask carvings. Although most residents of Northern Ghana have a great ability to form human bodies, animals and everyday objects in clay, this ability is almost exclusively practised in childhood when unfired clay figures are created in a playful manner. At most they are only formed later in the production of images of the above-mentioned animals possessed by supernatural spirits.

In terms of artistic design, the Koma terracottas can hardly be compared with corresponding products of the immediate neighbours. But it may well be allowed to compare depicted objects and other grave goods with the objects of the material culture of people neighbouring the excavation area. Unfortunately, this is not yet possible for the nearly completely unexplored Koma people [10].

As the author had the best access to the material culture of the Bulsa, whose language is closely related to that of the Koma, some comparisons between the cultural objects as depicted on the terracottas represented and their counterparts in the traditional culture of the Bulsa will be employed. The latter may exemplify more ethnic groups of Northern Ghana.

A fairly large consensus exists within clothing and jewellery. Here (calabash?) helmets studded with cowries, metal or stone armlets and anklets, circular or D-shaped in cross section, and necklaces with various forms of pendants should be mentioned. Waist strings with pubic aprons, as we find them depicted in the terracottas, correspond only partially to traditional Bulsa women's clothing, which consisted either of a bunch of fresh leaves or of purple or red-dyed plant fibers. The latter, however, have rather the form of an acute triangle, while the female terracotta figurines wear rectangular aprons. A leather apron from a whole goatskin commonly worn, until recently, by Bulsa men and many of their neighbours cannot be seen on the terracottas.

It is interesting that navel scarifications, which often occur in Djenné figures and are very popular in Northern Ghana where they are cut as a medical procedure and as body decoration, cannot be found on Koma terracottas. So-called tribal marks exist, as far as I am aware, only on a single figure in the form of two long scars from the root of the nose across the cheeks. In this form they are also common among some Bulsa clans.

Millstones which were also found in the mounds have apparently changed very little in recent centuries. The Bulsa use theses curved grinding stones mainly for grinding various ingredients in the manufacture of medicine, while millet is ground on flat stone slabs fixed into mud tables. The pottery finds in the Koma region still need to be analyzed carefully. It appears that their production corresponded more to the ceramic techniques now discontinued by the Bulsa, with roll-off, stamp and comb decoration and not to the modern simplified forms with almost exclusively incised decorations. Only the red laterite slip seems to have remained unchanged in this region.

4. Questions of chronology

When comparing the Koma terracottas with the artworks of other regions of West Africa, especially when establishing a stylistic influence, the question about the age of the Koma figures should be answered first. I commissioned a thermoluminescence dating which yielded a TL-age of 405 + 135 years. It is not much different from a second, which J. Anquandah and L. van Ham commissioned in France, resulting in an age of 480 + 80 years. Since then art galleries have provided numerous other TL-datings, resulting in ages between 400 and 800 years. However, it does not seem to be certain whether all the measures necessary for aprecise dating were taken and whether all relevant data were considered, such as the provision of including soil samples from the immediate vicinity of the discovery site, measuring the soil moisture and radiation intensity at the site, providing details about the time and the location [of the artefacts] after the excavation with information about effects of sun rays, heat, x-rays, etc. Therefore, in keeping with the order or dating commissioned by me, a probable large dispersion must be surmised. Nevertheless, it is probably realistic if accept 300-400 years as the minimum age of Koma terracottas. But even after this very deep-set age, there are some chronological difficulties if we include the cowrie shells found in a grave near Yikpabongo for dating. In early times cowries were a currency in West Africa. According to York the Cypraea moneta cowrie, obtained on the Maldives, were used in the Mali empire already in the 11th century. However, the cowries from the grave at Yikpabongo belonged to the Cypraea annulus species. Cowries of this type were obtained primarily on the East African coast and on Zanzibar and probably found their way into West Africa only in the 15th century, although smaller quantities may have reached West Africa by land. In the Republic of Ghana, the oldest finds of Cypraea annulus (3 specimens) were made in Jakpawuase (Gonja area, Northern Region). They date from the early 17th century. In the 18th century, Cypraea annulus appeared in Ghana in big quantities and displaced Cypraea moneta in the 19th century. Including the cowrie discoveries, J. Anquandah attributes the origin of Koma terracottas to the 17th-18th centuries. If we take into account TL-analyses commissioned by private people, resulting in an age of 400-800 years, some chronological problems arise, though they are not insurmountable. So it is quite possible that Cypraea annulus cowries entered Komaland much earlier than the Gonja area or that the Koma terracottas were made over a fairly long period. For the last assumption, the TL data as well as the different styles (e.g. in various representations of the eyes) should be considered.

A final clarification of the chronological problem will only be possible after further TL analyses and Cl4-dates have been carried out with scientific precision and after further discoveries of cowries or other articles relevant for dating the artefacts have been made.

5. Stylistic comparisons

Geographically the Koma country is situated almost exactly between the core areas of the Akan terracottas in Southern Ghana and the Niger Inland Delta, with its terracottas often named after the city of Djenné. A stylistic influence on the Koma-figures by the Akan terracottas must be ruled out since most of the Akan terracottas have emerged after those from Komaland. Only few arguments based on stylistic comparisons can be made for a reverse effect. If we take into account the TL-datings commissioned by art-galleries, the Koma terracottas came out around 400-800 years ago, i.e. about 1200-1600 A.D. Their dates of origin overlap considerably with the main production period of the Niger Inland Delta terracottas. This raises the question of whether there existed contacts between the two cultural centres at that time. It cannot be answered with certainty today. However, it is very likely that Komaland was not as isolated as it is today.

Before the exploration of Northern Ghana by the British, a trade route led from the north via Kanjaga, Wiesi through parts of the Koma area to Daboya and from there several ways led to Kumasi in Southern Ghana. Whether this trade route already existed in this form 400 years ago has not been proven. Nevertheless, it will be allowed to perform a comparison between the style of the terracottas from the Niger Inland Delta area and those of the Koma. The following similarities, especially between the anthropomorphic representations of the two cultures, are conspicuous:

1) In some representations of people, we encounter similar postures: the long arms rest on the knees.

2) The women wear a similar rectangular pubic apron.

3) The male and female figures display abundant body jewellery: above all bracelets and anklets with round cross-sections and necklaces with pendants. Cowrie decoration plays a large role.

4) Some men wear a knife on the left arm; the blade was stuck under an arm ring.

5) Some Inland Delta figures display a wide-open mouth, as it can be seen on many Koma terracottas.

6) With some Djenné figures, the eyes are represented by thick ridges, as it is also the case with many Koma figures.

7) Whether the tapered head shape of the Koma Janus-figures represents a head covering, as it is obviously the case with some Djenné figures, could not be ascertained.

8) In both cultures, small clay pots are placed in front of a few female figures. In front of Djenné figures, it is usually one, but in front of Koma-terracottas it is always two bowls.

9) Representations of horse-riders are found in both areas. The horses wear collars made of bells and cowries.

10) Individual images of snakes in a rolled form are popular topics in both cultures.

In my opinion, the enumeration of the stylistic and substantive similarities could not indicate clear evidence of unilateral or reciprocal influence between the Koma and Inland Delta figures.

The big differences [between Djenné and Komaland figures] are more obvious than the similarities. Even a layman can see at a glance that they belong to different styles. The most obvious forms of representation of the Koma figures, such as the often fantastic Janus depictions, do not find equivalents in the Djenné terracottas.

The conclusion from the aforesaid may just be that Koma art treasures, despite some superficial similarities to the Djenné terracottas, are stylistically independent artefacts produced in Komaland. Currently we can only speculate about the origin of this art style and possible influences from other regions and art movements that are not mentioned in this essay. Out of the many hundreds of grave mounds in the Koma area, only four have been unearthed to my knowledge Therefore the future will bring quite a few surprises but may also provide a few answers to the questions raised here.

But whatever the solutions of the present academic problems may look like, even now it can be said that the discovery and exploration of the Koma terracottas will have lasting consequences in various areas. For the modern state of Ghana, they do not mean that a gap will be filled in the series of historical events. Rather, the terracottas open up a new chapter of the past that has been little known. To many Southern Ghanaians, the whole north of the country was previously regarded as relatively underdeveloped and without history. In manuals written in Ghana on topics of spiritual and material culture of the country, the whole north (Upper Region and Northern Region) is often dismissed in a few paragraphs with some highly generalized remarks. Even after looking at the first excavation results in Komaland, the alleged cultural imbalance of the country has changed because, no doubt, the Koma terracottas, in terms of their artistic significance, can be well compared with the Akan terracottas, which are well-known to art lovers around the world because of numerous illustrated art books. The age of the Komaland terracottas gives witness to an earlier period of Ghanaian history – more so than their southern counterparts. In the future, art historians will compare them to the precious terracottas of Nok, Ife and Benin (Nigeria). Self-confidence and self-image through one’s own history can give a new incentive to the educated populations in Ghana. We know that the world’s experts in West African art are waiting for new archaeological findings that could give deep insights into cultural and historical contexts.

In this situation it is particularly regrettable that the recovery of much of the art treasures in conjunction with scientifically proven methods, which alone can give insight into the function and significance of the artefacts, has been prevented by commercial interests. In my estimation, the number of illegally excavated and illegally exported figures is far greater than of those officially excavated by J. Anquandah and his team. Since the terracottas are currently offered by several art dealers, especially to private collectors, the possibility of evaluating the art objects in a comparative context that captures stylistic features and analyses them by quantitative methods, is largely impossible.

While the educated classes of the new African states express regret that important evidence of their own past can be seen only in European and American museums and their demands for a return have often been levied, the case of the Koma terracottas reveals a much greater danger and not only when seen from an African perspective. Namely, there exists the danger that culturally important art objects have become dispersed into the hands of numerous private collectors outside of Africa without having been evaluated scientifically beforehand. In many cases these objects are now unattainable for future scientific work.



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Note (2011)

This paper was published in German in PAIDEUMA, an anthropological journal, in 1988. After new excavations in Yikpabongo were carried out by Dr. B. Kankpeyeng (Legon) and Prof. Insoll (Manchester) and after the author conducted extensive fieldwork among the Koma (Yikpabongo) between 2001 and 2011, some statements and arguments are out of date now. The following corrections and additional comments added in 2011 refer to the numbers in square brackets in the text.


[1] A bridge over the Sisili river was built about 1993.

[2] Barisi was abandoned after all the inhabitants moved to Yikpabongo. A new village called Senta (< Engl. _centre=) was built in the1980s, and the small village of Bayeba Tiging, consisting only of three compounds, was not known to me in 1984 when I collected material for this paper.

[3] All these villages had been abandoned before the discovery of the terracottas.

[4] Many Koma have never heard this name before. Some others think that it was a name given to Yikpabongo by other ethnic groups.

[5] My informant in 1984 probably translated the Konni word tiging by ‘compound’. A dependent compound of a tiging is called gbaang, literally “courtyard” in Konni. So in an architectural sense, the number of compounds in Yikpabango was probably greater than fourteen in 1984. Today there are about 50 compounds.

[6] 0.50 i

[7] These ancestral shrines and the terracotta-heads were transferred to the compound after my first visit at Zamsa in 1978.

[8] In 2002 I saw two terracotta heads placed on the Bakodeng clan-shrine (ngming Jorung) in Yikpabongo. See photo 117 in Kröger/Baluri 2011, p. 185.

[9] Afterwards I even saw a disc with twelve faces.

[10] Koma culture, including its material culture, was extensively explored in the years following this publication. Cf. Kröger/Baluri 2011.

[11] After the publication of this paper, Anquandah’s excavations were continued by Dr. Kankpeyeng and Prof. Insoll.



Translation of German terms on the two plates:


p. 130: The excavation area (find spot after J. Anquandah, 1987a)



area of finds

Koma village

Bulsa village

Mamprusi village

Sisala village


p. 134: Attempt at a provisonary typification


Type I: Heads with "pegs" (~56%)

    a) concave skull

    b) with open mouth

    c) with shoulder


Type II: Human body (~17%]

    a) concave skull

    b) with open mouth

         1.long arms

         2. winged arms


Type III: Janus figures (14%]

    a) "long-necked" heads

         2 eyes each

         1 eye each

    b) one upon the other

    c) human bodies

    d) 4 faces

    e) discs


Type IV: Animals (4%)

    a) snake







    b) horse and rider


Type V: miscellaneous and not interpretable types



The excavation area (find spot after J. Anquandah, 1987a)




Attempt at a provisonary typification