Taboo and art among the Guans of the mid-Volta District of Ghana

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Taboo, which is a word with a linguistic problem, is difficult to define as well. It is a word which has its origin in Polynesia. Taboo is defined as an element of all those situations in which attitudes to values are expressed in terms of danger behavior. Taboo has something to do with “sacredness” something that may be “forbidden”. Taboo may apply to “persons” or “something” and may describe things that are “element’ or “devoted”. Taboo which was first discovered by Captain Cook and King 1777 in the society Island in Tongo in the pacific Ocean during their first voyage around the world has since been incorporated into English language since its discovery in the 18th century. The Guans define taboo as “akyide” a thing that must not be done. There are various taboos about them. The purpose of this research which centres around “Taboos and Art among the Guans of the Mid-Volta District of Ghana” is to find out the relationship between taboos and Art. The main concern here is not to elaborate on those art forms which are not different from those art forms we know. The important thing is to find the taboos placed on such arts are reasonable. Attempts will be made to discuss those taboos that are not reasonable and suggestion given as to the idea behind the taboos. Some of these taboos are a disregarded. The these has a direct practical aim: to give as comparative as possible as account of general ideas about definition and origins of Taboo and to analyse those taboos about various art forms of the Guans examining their function and purpose and how taboo eventually affect art adversely. The thesis is not a diachronic but rather a synchronic representation as it takes into consideration the Guan surroundings, economic conditions and habits, regional and ethnic institutions with special reference to art and culture. Primarily the thesis is concern with matter and not history. The thesis treated from the point of view of the professional artist (ceramist/potter) and from the point of view of art historian with a sociological and anthropological background. The research also aims at the significance of taboo and what gave a rise to taboos; who observe taboos and nature and observation of taboos. There already exist some books under various headings. Investigations will therefore be made into these available literatures to find out more about taboos. References will also be made to certain general taboos in the Akan – speaking areas of Ghana but greater attention will be given to Taboo in the Guan District of Ghana To think of Art in terms of taboo it appears misleading to speak of “the art of the past; as if in contrast suggests that we are dealing with something which is over and done with, which has become merely a matter for the historian, like the events and people of the past. But pieces of sculpture which were produced hundreds or thousands of years ago exist here and now and are present to our sense in the same way as those that were produced yesterday. Apart from effects of wear and tear their age or newness does not affect their quality as art work. What was a beautiful and expressive masterpiece two or three thousand years ago still has the power to move and delight us even when we know nothing about its origin or about the significance it once had in a system of customs and beliefs and that has disappeared beyond recovery. There are no language barriers to be overcome, as there are in ancient and foreign literatures before we can understand Guan pottery, sculpture and architecture. The language of art is a universal language and it can speak directly to us even though we know nothing whatsoever about a particular work apart from what we can see of it in front of our eyes.
A thesis submitted to the Board of Postgraduate studies in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master of Arts Degree in African Art,1981.