Lobi Tribe of Africa: African Tribal people

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Location: Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Africa

Population: 160,000

Language: Lobi (Voltaic)

Neighbouring Peoples: Bwa, Senufo, Nuna

Types of Art: The Lobi carve numerous types of objects, ranging from those used every day to figures that embody religious ideals. The figures (bateba) are recognized as living beings, which are placed on the shrines of thila and are able to communicate with one another and to fight off witches.

History: The Lobi migrated into Burkina Faso from present day Ghana around 1770, and many of them crossed the border into contemporary Côte d'Ivoire over the next hundred years or so in search of uncultivated lands. Although Lobi villages are often very independent and so politically disorganized, they managed to put up a strong resistance to French colonialization.

Economy: The Lobi mostly practice hoe farming, living on millet, sorghum and corn. The men are normally responsible for clearing the fields and preparing them for planting, while the women do most of the sowing and harvesting. Both men and women produce crafts, which they sell on the local markets for a modest income. Some livestock and cattle are raised for trading and to be used for paying for dowries and fines and also to use as offerings. Although hunting and fishing at one time provided an important source of protein for the Lobi, this is no longer the case, as game populations have been seriously diminished since the introduction of firearms.

Political Systems: Lobi villages are spread out and often intermingle with one another. It is often difficult to distinguish one from another geographically. Yet, due to village affiliation with an individual thil ("supernatural spirit"), it is possible to define community boundaries. The thil, who is recognized as the head of the community, expresses prohibitions through a religious diviner, which must be obeyed by the village inhabitants. Each village is independent, and the prohibitions enforced in one area may be completely ignored in the next.

Religion:It is believed by the Lobi that at one time they lived in a metaphorical Garden of Eden at one with the god and wanting for nothing. However, as their numbers began to increase men began to fight one another over women, and as a result the god turned his back on them. Not wanting them to be completely lost, the god sent forth thila to take care of the people. The thila are contacted through a diviner who delivers their messages, demands, and prohibitions to the people. 

The village thil is embodied in a village shrine but, since thila may leave the shrines, they are often uninhabited. Below the thila cosmologically, yet above men, are numerous bush spirits. The Lobi are able freely to distinguish between the bush spirits and the thila based on a series of factors, which at first seem quite confusing to the outsider.

Credits:  Christopher D. Roy also see credit page
Professor of the History of Art
The University of Iowa