The Moba people, or Bimoba, are a Gur-speaking ethnic group from north-eastern Ghana and north-western Togo. Population centres in Ghana include Bimbagu and Bunkpurugu. The Bimoba number approximately 250,000 people in north-eastern Ghana and about 320,000 people in northern Togo. Small groups live in Burkina Faso.
The Moba people live mainly in the Dapaong plane of the Savanes Region in northwestern Togo and some in the northeastern part of Ghana where they are known as ‘’Bimoba’’. An earlier denomination of Moba is ‘’Moab’. Neighbors to the north and east are the Gurma, to the south the Tchokossi and Konkomba, and to the west the Mamprusi and Kusasi. The Moba are composed of numerous clans and lineages, few of which were assumed to be autochthonous. Hypotheses are that the Moba separated from the Gurma in northern Burkina Faso and both then migrated southwards in the 17/18th century, the former first more to the west and the latter later to the east of northern Togo, where they again intermingled. The Moba however developed an ethnic identity, although de Surgy for instance did not differentiate between Moba and Gurma.
The Moba are further closely linked to the Mamprusi (and less to the Konkomba); with the former they intermingled and formed new Moba lineages. The Moba (or Moare) language belongs to the Gur sub‐family of the Oti‐Volta languages.
The Bimoba are believed to have migrated southwards from the Present-day Burkina-Faso following the collapse of the Kingdom of Fada-Gurma around 1420.
Bimoba society is patriarchal and is structured around clan and family heads. There are Clan-based kings or chiefs with vested power to hold the various clans together. The clans themselves can be located on multiple locations based on power and numbers. Presently, the clan groups of the Bimoba include Luok, Gnadaung, Dikperu, Puri, Tanmung, Gbong, Labsiak, Kunduek, Buok, the Baakpang, Turinwe and Kanyakib.
The Bimoba practice predominantly ethnic religions. They identify with personal deities collectively referred to as Yennu, which translates as "god" or "sun". Their ancestors play a role by being the contact between themselves and Yannu. A typical Bimoba compound would have a clay construction altar (patir; plural: pataa) in an enclosed hut (nakouk) where sacrifices are made to invoke the presence of the ancestors. Women are allowed into the nakuuk. Aside the patir located in the compound, every family member is allowed to construct their own small altar known as a mier. Communities may have a common shrine known as tingban. The tingban is visited at times of problems that concern the entire community such as a drought or a disease outbreak.
In 1986/1998, the political and social organization of the Moba was similar to that of the other peoples in northern Togo and basically characterized by an acephalous custodianship of the earth; sometimes they were organized in small chiefdoms where they intermingled with the Mamprusi for instance. The cosmology was again similar to that of the surrounding peoples, consisting of a supreme creator
god, Yendu (in this case), and a series of beneficent or malevolent bush or water spirits. Ancestor and reincarnation beliefs also existed in 1983, similar to those Swanson described for the Gurma in 1985. Each human being had their protective spirit, cicilg, according to Zwernemann in 1998, while de Surgy mentioned two such spirits, madaa‐nib and nindam‐nib, and only designated the former as cicilk (or madaa‐cicilk) in 1983. Confusing in this respect is the fact that Zwernemann and de Surgy also mentioned a personal protective spirit yendu, which is a part of the creator god Yendu. The difference between the personal protective spirits cicilg/k and yendu – if any exists – seems unclear. Kraemer did not mention a personal yendu spirit, she referred however to a personal yendu shrine in 1986 (see below).
Concerning the sculptural work, several examples attributed to the Moba were already collected and documented at around 1900, e.g. by Thierry, Riegler and Gruner (all of them German colonial administrators of the colonial Sansanne‐Mangu district), Zech or Frobenius. Thierry offered around 1700 objects from northern Togo to the Graf von Linden in 1899 with most of them then being acquired by German museums in 1900. Further Moba figures were mentioned in 1951 and 1967.
Zwernemann acquired several Moba and Gurma figures for the German Linden Museum in 1969/70 . The first exhibition dedicated to the works of the Moba was organized by Amrouche and Thiam in 1991; Amrouche estimated that more than 150 Moba sculptures ‘’left’’ Togo and appeared on the tribal art market between 1989 and 1991.
The first sources denominated these figures as ancestor representations (Thierry in, Zech (hypothesis) and Frobenius, who designated them as kikirri).
Froelich mentioned good‐natured spirits represented by anthropomorphic figures called tcitcire. According to de Surgy, the figures are called cicili and represent the madaa‐nib, as mentioned above. He however also revealed that they may represent ancestors – again his statements do not seem very clear.
Kraemer differentiated three types of figures according to their size and attributed them with different functions/representations in 1986/87
20cm size, denominated yendu tchitcheri, were placed on the personal yendu shrine and had a protective function; they did not represent any person or ancestor.
Early Moba figures collected (S1‐4), photographed (S5), and outlined (S6‐8)
In addition to wooden figures, iron and ivory ones also existed. bawoong tchitcheri were of 25‐90cm size and installed on household shrines; they represented recent family ancestors. Larger figures, of about one meter or more in height, sakab tchitcheri, represented clan‐founding ancestors; in most cases they were planted in the ground. bawoong tchitcheri may be more detailed than the smaller and larger
figures and also show facial features. New Sakab figures were no longer manufactured after 1980 since all ancient ancestors were already represented. In the past, deteriorated figures may have been replaced, but this was no longer done after 1980. Zwernemann basically confirmed Kraemer’s classification in 1997, but did however mention that the yendu tchitcheri may also represent ancestors and, more specifically, pointed out that the tchitcheri represent the cicili of the ancestors and not the ancestor spirits themselves.
The Gurma did not use anthropomorphic representations, with the exception of the northeastern Togo area, where they are neighboring the Moba. The Moba and Gurma figures cannot be differentiated furthermore. The question thus arises as to where the Moba and Togolese Gurma have adopted the sculptural tradition from, once settled in northern Togo, after their migration from Burkina Faso, where they did not yet have this tradition (and assuming that this migration hypothesis is valid). If the few autochthonous clans did not already have sculptures, an explanation seems that an expansion of the sculptural tradition occurred, either from the west to the east or from the south to north, i.e. from northern Ghana in the first case or southern Togo in the second case to northern Togo.
This hypothesis may also explain some atypical figures collected and attributed to the Moba by Thierry at around 1900, see Fig. 39, which clearly exhibit the more naturalistic style of the more southern peoples. The assignment of these examples to the Moba was pronounced erroneous in – however, perhaps it was not.
Atypical Moba figures were later also found on Moba or Gurma shrines by Krüger and Geis‐Tronich. Thus, as some highly abstract, ’’Moba‐like’’ figures can be found among the Lamba/Losso, more naturalistic ones may, in rarer cases, have also been created by the Moba/Gurma, by for instance people who migrated early from the south and were then assimilated.
Atypical Moba figures: photographed on a Moba shrine (S9), or attributed to the Moba (S10‐12), or Gurma (S13)