Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Protective Pendant (Sabi na fre)

19th–20th century
Burkina Faso, Black Volta River region
Copper alloy
H. 3 1/4 x W. 3 1/2 in. (8.3 x 8.9 cm)
Credit Line:
The Bryce Holcombe Collection of African Decorative Art, Gift of Bryce Holcombe, 1982
Accession Number:
Not on view
Personal artifacts of an intimate nature, such as bracelets, rings, and pendants, are prescribed by diviners throughout the western Sudan to shield their clients from disease and sorcery. These customized items of adornment both protect and enhance their owner. In addition to drawing from a repertory of classic forms, artists create or adapt images that relate personally to a patron's identity and individual needs.
This genre of adornment includes distinctive cast copper-alloy pendants in crescent form owned by members of Nuna, Bobo, Lobi, Nunuma, Senufo, and other groups. They range from small, relatively simple versions worn by children to more ornate designs commissioned by adult women.
Such works were created to help women afflicted with reproductive diseases. Diviners would advise clients suffering from these problems to petition their family's protective spirit for a cure. Often a woman would return to her father's home and have her brothers commission a pendant that featured the family mask, to encourage the spirit of the mask to intervene and facilitate the cure.
Bryce P. Holcombe, New York, until 1982

Roy, Christopher D. Art of the Upper Volta Rivers. Meudon: Alain et Francoise Chaffin, 1987.

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