Mahmoud Malik Saako

Anonymus, Koma Figurine. Probably 13.-19. century. Ghana, Terracotta, H: 25 cm. Donation to the Museum in 1989 through René David (Zürich)

Broadening the Knowledge about West African Art

The Koma figurines came from Northern Ghana that include Upper West, Upper East, and Northern Regions which were hitherto known as the northern territories or northern Ghana. The term Koma is perhaps limited to the Moagduri District (formerly of West Mamprusi District) of North East Region which was formerly under the Northern Region until it was divided into Northern, Savannah, and North East Regions in 2020. The Komaland as it is known covers an area approximately 100km by 100km. The discovery of the Koma clay figurines in Ghana has broadened our knowledge and understanding of African Art and West African in particular. These terracotta art pieces have provided us with different perspectives of northern Ghana's art but are very difficult to contextualize historically or connect the current inhabitants in the aforementioned geographical area to these Koma figurines. All attempts so far have largely been hypothetical in nature.

  • Mahmoud Malik Saako
    Mahmoud Malik Saako

    The Koma figurines did not only enrich the stock of African artwork but evoke the minds of a great culture represented or embedded greatly in these art pieces. These figurines have been classified into anthropomorphic (the use of human features), and zoomorphic (the use of animal features), based on the stylistic representation while some are both anthropomorphic and zoomorphic (they possess both human and animal features). They are some of the anthropomorphic figurines that have one head and two faces or one body with multiple heads while some have a head with a conical shape.  Those anthropomorphic coned figurines are the most common types and are consisting of a head with a long conical neck or body.


    The Koma figurines could be equated to those of Nok and Ife (in Nigeria), Sao (around Lake Chad), the Akan funerary clay figures (in southern Ghana), and the Jenne and Bankoni clay figurines of the Inland Niger Delta (in Mali). Beyond their artistic significance and historical products, the Koma figurines have generated some interest among intellectuals in and outside Ghana including antique dealers.

    Before the scientific investigations commenced in the 1980s and 2006 onwards, the communities within this geographical area known as "Komaland" were encountering or recovering these terracotta figurines when they were digging for soil to build their homes. The people then referred to them as kronkronballi which literary means "children from an old-time". These figurines are either found in house or burial mounds within the area. The culture of the current inhabitants of the area where these figurines are found do revere their ancestors, and any disturbance of the ancestral graves or the removal of any burial goods either intentionally or accidentally must be expiated by sacrifices, and all the grave goods are reburied at the same place. Since the people are far remote from the creators or ancestors of these figurines, many of the damaged ones were either thrown away while a significant number of them were taken home and given to children as toys.


    Moreover, art dealers in Ghana and West Africa recognized the commercial value of these Koma figurines long before the scientific investigations by the first anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians. These Koma figurines were, therefore, sold at the various art markets in northern Ghana (in Bolgatanga at the craft village) and southern Ghana (in Kumasi and Accra art centers) to foreign tourists. It is through this medium that Koma figurines have found their way into many European and Western museums.


    Furthermore, scientific excavations in the 1980s and the subsequent excavations in 2006 onward by a team of archaeologists in Ghana and abroad, have attracted the attention of the world through conferences and publications. The Koma figurines were initially appreciated based on their aesthetic values but the subsequent archaeological excavations subjected them to more rigorous scientific analysis and historical classification such as social, cultural, political, and environmental. The scientific excavations have also to some extent put a stop to the numerous lootings of the sites that were hitherto very rampant.


    The archaeological investigations in recent times and based on radiocarbon analysis from pieces of charcoal dated the site between the 6th and 14th centuries AD. But further investigations are still ongoing to identify the authors or creators of this supposed complex civilization in northern Ghana though, parallel has been made to the Lobi in Ghana and Burkina Faso.