What's your problem?

Among the Baule people in West Africa, a marriage isn't always to ones true love, neither is it always between two living people. Sometimes one needs to marry a being from beyond, a celestial prescription if you will. This marriage happens when a diviner, or wunnzueyifue as they are known among the Baule, diagnoses the persons problems and determines they can be cured by wedding a spirit spouse, which is known as a blolo. The spouse is then carved, and has a distinct and individual personality known to its physical mate. The relationship between the two is often active rather than passive with the physical mate devoting at least one night a week to their spirit spouse. Through caring for them, and giving offerings of food and money the spouse in return will 'cure' the persons affliction. In collectible African art these figures are proudly displayed, but when used in context the blolo are private, personal and never shown to anyone. They are kept in a corner, often the bedroom, sometimes in a shrine or simply covered with a sheet.

The owners of these figures were everyday people like you and I, and the problems they faced were undoubtedly more similar to our own than you may think. What is known is that the owners problems were solved, because it is only then when these figures are set free. We can be grateful that these figures provide a gentle reminder that no one is perfect and we can all use a little help from time to time, from a friend or otherwise.

For further information, see the book 'Dreams and Reverie' by Philip L. Ravenhill. 1996 Smithsonian Institution