An Ivory Coast Door

Originally Published in 1930

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Wood door depicting animal and human figures
Plate VIII — House Door
Ivory Coast, West Africa
Museum Object Number: 30-10-1
Image Number: 742

PLATE VIII shows an important new addition to the African collections. It is an excellent example of West African wood carving in intaglio and low relief. This door was formerly the property of General Dodds, a native of Senegal of mixed European and negro descent, who conquered Dahomey for the French in the nineties of the last century. It came to the Museum as a “Dahomey door,” probably because General Dodds is chiefly known for his exploits in that country. Several features of the carving, however, show it to have had its origin further west, in the interior of the Ivory Coast. General Dodds campaigned rather widely in Upper Guinea and might easily have obtained the door in the Ivory Coast.

The iconography of such house carvings from Upper Guinea is far from being satisfactorily known, but it seems certain that they are to be read both historically and symbolically. The groups of human figures, mounted and unmounted, probably record actual scenes from the life of the master of the house. The region is characterized by a belief in tutelary animal spirits which in some cases rank as totems. The crocodile, the tortoise, and various kinds of birds and animals figure among these friends and relations of men. Representations, more or less realistic, of all these appear on the door, as well as a curious object in the upper left hand corner, which may represent a beetle. The animal which is held between the jaws of the crocodile in the bottom panel is probably a goat. Goats in this part of Africa are often sacrificial victims and the crocodile, in the capacity of a deity or near-deity, is sometimes the recipient of sacrifices. A pair of typical Ivory Coast masks are shown, flanking the tortoise, a symbol of the “feminine principle,” in the top panel of the door.

Cite This Article

"An Ivory Coast Door." Museum Bulletin I, no. 4 (April, 1930): 22-23. Accessed July 25, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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