TRIBAL AFRICAN ART
KULANGO (KOULANGO, PAKALA)
The 190,000 Kulango occupy a region in the Northwest Côte d'Ivoire that borders Burkina Faso (to the north) and Ghana (to the east). The Kulango are matrilinear. They live in villages where family property is set according to lineage lines. The elders direct community life, based around the agricultural calendar. In the past, from the seventeenth century until the Mandingo invasions, a Kulango king, installed at Bouna, ruled the kingdom for better or for worse through the mediation of princely families. His power was primarily felt in Bouna, a booming center of commerce dominated by Diula merchants. Following the conquest by the Mandingo, the monarchy was significantly diminished, rebounding in a final gasp as a tool of French colonial administration. Large migrations of Akan (seventeenth century) and Lobi (nineteenth century), coming from the east and north, also destabilized Kulango cultural unity. At present, the Kulango share numerous institutions and characteristics with ethnic groups, which, in search of arable ground, have gradually come to settle in the region. The once fertile Kulango region has become almost entirely bush; therefore, the Kulango and other groups in the region are migrating southward in search of new farmland. When a man finds a plot he wishes to farm, he settles there and works until he has earned enough money to build a house for his family, who then joins him. Some of the Kulango have moved to the cities and found wage-paying jobs as mechanics, taxi drivers, or office clerks.
Each Kulango village is made up of several small settlements. The settlements consist of a number of mud huts with cone-shaped roofs made of palm leaves or thatch. The huts are grouped around a center court, which serves as a meeting place. Every settlement is made up of several extended families, each of which is its own economic unit. The male head of each extended family is responsible for offering sacrifices to the ancestral spirits. He is succeeded by his oldest sister's eldest son. All disputes and community affairs are handled by the village headmen and the religious chief. Throughout the centuries, Dyula Muslim traders have come into the Kulango region with the intention of converting the locals to Islam. However, the Kulango have resisted, and today, only about 6% of them are Muslim. The majority (90%) continue to practice their traditional ethnic religions. They believe in a supreme god who is not worshipped but is addressed in association with "mother earth." The earth god, Tano, is a god of the whole tribe. There is a shrine set up for Tano, and a yearly festival is held in his honor. During disasters or hard times, the Kulango pray to the spirits of their ancestors and make offerings of mashed yams. The spirits are believed to inhabit certain wild animals as well as various objects of nature: thunder, lightning, water, etc. The Kulango celebrate many festivals, such as the annual yam festival. This is a time when parents and children exchange gifts then eat a meal of mashed yams and soup. There is also a festival for the dead, in which the gods and ancestors are asked for guidance and prosperity. Dances and singing are part of both festivals.
Kulango statuary is rare, and often presented as derived from and strongly influenced by Lobi art. Only characterizations of the stylistic order allow such a hypothesis to be advanced, as information pertaining to the context of its use is wanting.
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