Esi Mansa (Female Shrine Figure), Fante, Ghana, 20th c.
Wood, cowrie shells, beads, 24”
Gift of Jack Kimbrough and Family
Cat: 1993 K1 A
The Fante people of coastal Ghana place female figures on family shrines where they commemorate revered ancestors and promote wealth and abundance called Esi Mansa. The woman sits on a typical stool preparing to breastfeed her child. Carved in lightweight, light-colored wood with plaited hair and black pigment and white kaolin. Among the Fante, these maternity figures (Esi Mansa) are placed in shrines and are thought to enhance the fertility of women, give support during birth and ensure welfare and sufficient nourishment. Present day Esi Mansa sculpture wear jewelry and display typical tribal scarification marks on both cheeks as well as neck rings which signify fertility and abundance. Incorporated into the design of the chair is a figure supporting the mother, representative of the people who rely upon her for nurturing and protection. The elaborate hairstyle, beads and scarification all enhance her power and beauty.
Source: Blackmun-Visona, Monica, et. al. A History of Art in Africa. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson: Prentice Hall, 2008, pp. 211-12.