The Lobi are an ethnic group that originated in what is today Ghana. Starting around 1770 many of the Lobi migrated into southern Burkina Faso and later into Côte d'Ivoire. Currently the group consists of around 160,000 people. Lobiri is the name of the language spoken by the Lobi people.
Lobi is a loose term which refers to several closely related ethnic groups that comprise roughly 7% of the Burkinabe population including the main Lobi clan, Birifor, Dagara, Dorossy, Dyan, Gan and Tenbo/Loron. Although traditions may vary slightly between clans, they share a common sense of identity and traits such as living in distinctive mud defensive compounds, using poisoned bows and arrows to fend off attackers, a sharing of initiation rites and animist beliefs that vigorously pay reverence to the spiritual world, families that are often determined by female lineage, and their craftsmenship of wooden statues which are often worshipped.
The name Lobi originates from two Lobiri words lou (meaning forest) and bi (meaning children), literally "Children of the forest" who settled initially on the left bank of the Mouhoun River or the Black Volta dividing Burkina and Ghana who ventured into Burkina Faso. The Mouhoun is important in Lobi myth and symbolizes a dividing line between this world and the next, similar to the River Styx of Roman mythology. The Lobi crossed the Mounhoun centuries ago from east to west and settled in the lands and brought with them deep animist beliefs and superstition. According to Lobi legend, the spirits of the deceased must return across the river to rejoin their honorable ancestors in the ancient world. The banks of the Mounhoun are used in initiation rites and fish and animals in the river are considered sacred.
The Lobi inhabit parts of southern Burkina Faso. According to the director of the museum in Gaoua which is considered to be the capital of the Lobi, "The Lobi is a farmer, a hunter and a herder, but above all he is a warrior". Victims of slave raids, rival clans and civil disputes, they are among the fiercest and proudest inhabitants of Burkina Faso and were constantly under attack from the Guiriko and Kenedougou empires during the 19th century. Bakary Ouattara, brother of the founder of the Guiriko empire led an offensive against the Lobi in 1815, and despite setting fire to several villages he was eventually killed by a poisoned arrow. He was succeeded by Karakara who continued with the raids leading up to the devastating attack in 1850 where they suffered heavily and lost a great deal but were never completely defeated.
In June 1898, the French and the British made an agreement that the Lobi country would go under French jurisdiction. Attempts at controlling the peoples was difficult and the Lobi became known for their resistance using poisoned arrows in attempting to thwart the French colonial invasion. and in 1914 during the outbreak of World War I the French colonial administration based in Gaoua began a merciless repression to the extent that the local were forbidden in copying any traits of the white man in the area. During the twentieth century some migrated into Côte d'Ivoire.
The Lobi are well documented for their animist beliefs. The worshipping of spirit ancestors and fetishes is distinct in Lobi culture and fetish houses outside their mud compounds are daily practices. Christian missionaries working in southern Burkina Faso are reported to have said that an elderly man in a Lobi village once renounced the spirits in favor of Christianity by discarding his fetishes in a nearby lake. As he turned his back on the traditions, the fetishes leapt out of the lake onto his back again to reclaim him. Lobi people who convert to Christianity or Islam now usually burn their fetishes.
In Lobi animism, Thagba is the creator of all living things. They have no direct contact with Thagba, but are dependent on nature spirits known as thila, invisible intermediaries which can harness their supernatural powers towards good or evil. They set rules zosar which dictate how a Lobi should behave in all aspects of life, but similar to Greek or Roman gods the thila themselves are subject to mortal virtues and vices. In Lobi society there is often a village diviner, a thildar which acts as a village priest in interpreting the rules of the spirits. A particularly intuitive and receptive thildar is capable of interpreting as many as 50 spirits at a time.
Villages typically have several priests; often individuals which specialize in the interpretation of singular spirits rather than multiple, as a chief thildar may.
Lobi dwellings are characterized as large rectangular or polygonal compounds known as maison soukala. They are spaced well from each other and are composed of a single vast mud banco wall and a small entrance. An entrance to a Lobi house is a relatively recent development, traditionally there were ladders constructed from notched branches leading up to the roof and a hole for entry at the top. Only the chief of the household can give permission to enter. The roof is broad and flat and forms a terrace which was often used as a lookout point but can also be used as a dormitory. Traditionally there would have been a well for water and space for domestic animals. The rooms inside a Lobi house are very dark and commonly are large enough for around 15 people. Each wife has a room for herself and her children where meals are prepared. Canaris, large earthenware jars using for containing water or dolo are often stacked up against the kitchen walls.
- Manson, K., Knight, J. (2006), Burkina Faso, p. 226, Bradt Travel Guides, The Globe Pequot Press Inc.
- Manson & Knight, p. 226, Retrieved on June 17, 2008
- Manson & Knight, p. 221, Retrieved on June 17, 2008
- Manson & Knight, p. 222, Retrieved on June 17, 2008
- Labouret, Henri, "les Tribus du Rameau Lobi", Institut d'Ethnologie, Paris, 1931.
- Père, Madeleine, "Les Lobi, Traditions et changement", Vol.1 et 2, Siloë, Laval, 1988.
- Meyer, Piet, "Kunst und Religion der Lobi", Museum Rietberg, Zûrich, 1981.
- Pirat, Claude-henri, "Lobi Statuary and the Statuary of Related Peoples, an Example of Cult Art", Tribal Arts Magazine, Paris/San Francisco, N°1, March 1994, p. 22-32.
- Pirat, Claude-Henri, "Occult Conversations, or How the Thila Make the Law for the Lobi", in "Arts d'Afrique,Voir l'Invisible", Musée d'Aquitaine, Bordeaux, Hazan, Paris, 2011, p. 85-91. and p. 217-220.
- Rouville, Cécile de, "Organisation Sociale des Lobi, une Société Bilinéaire du Burkina Faso et de Côte d'Ivoire", L'Harmatan, Paris, 1987.
- Bognolo, Daniela, "Lobi", 5 Continents Editions, Milan, 2007.
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