The book on the Gan, a population located in the south-west region of Burkina Faso, guides us through the history of that small kingdom, where the relationship to the sacred took root with its founding near the end of the sixteenth century. For the Gan, every form of power is legitimized by its relation to a traditional and official state system of cults dedicated to a pantheon of supernatural entities, associated in particular with the spirits of the dead who held princely rank during their lives. The cult objects and symbols identifying these entities – spectacular animal figurations in bronze – turn out to play a determining role in the procedures for relating the present to the past, to the point of constituting formidable “objects of memory”. Alongside their mediating function and powerful representativeness, they are key material signs for reconstituting the history and symbolics of this kingdom from the standpoint of the oral tradition.
Showing that ethnohistory and the anthropology of art can complement each other, this richly documented essay presents the historical and organizational foundations of the Gan monarchy through the symbolics and aesthetics of the major cult objects that make it unique and that contribute toward memorializing and transmitting its past and its modes of thought and action.