Bijago Statuary — Image by kenne
Last fall our friend Tom Markey and his son went on a fishing trip in the Bijagos Archipelago off the coast of Guinea-Bissau. The Bijago inhabit most of the 25 Bissagos Islands constituting a small West African tribe of approximately 22,000.
It is not unusual for some of the islands to have a matriarchal society where women possess all the power organize themselves into associations, which manage the economy, social welfare, and the law. This matriarchal society may have resulted from there being two types of priests, female and male. The female, called Oquinca, interprets the designs of the Supreme Being. The Oquinca is named by the king or chief and may temporarily replace a deceased king until the new king is installed.
While in the Bijagos Archipelago Tom purchased one of the traditional wooden statues of two women, one standing on the head of the other. For centuries the Bijago worshiped wood statues. To ensure its safe return in his luggage, Tom had the wood carving cut into two pieces.
Upon his return to Tucson, Tom ask me to photograph the Bijago statuary. Questions of form, meaning, function and most all the context within which traditional Bijago statuary came to be remain without answers.
(Reference: “Traditional Bijago Statuary,” by Robert C. Helmholz)