Koma-Bulsa Figure

Koma Land is a river basin surrounded by watercourses to the south and east (the Kulpawn River) and to the west (the Sisili River).

Ancient tribal figure

Tribe: Koma-Bulsa

Origin: Ghana

Approx Age: Thermoluminescent age determination: 500 years (+/- 20%).

Materials: Terracotta

Dimensions cm: 18.5 – 19 on stand

Ref. Number: 1699


A very old and intriguing Koma-Bulsa figure in terracotta, seated with its hands on its knees, bulging eyes and wearing an adornment over the right shoulder, dished/inverted conical head with a small hole in the centre. Very little information is known regarding this ancient tribe. This was thermoluminescent age tested and resulted that this was 500 years (+/- 20%).

Provenance: Galerie Walu, Zurich (before 1987).


Karl Ferdinand Schädler described the rediscovery of this culture in 1987 as follows: “Some of them look as if they came from the Bandiagara gorges and were products of the Dogon. But these are only a few. Most of these terracottas from a culture from the if you don’t know anything, they look more as if they came from Somarzo or as if they had sprung from the fantasy world of Hieronymus Bosch: heads whose brain shells are tapered or which are hollowed out in the shape of a cup, with glasses-like eyes or with ears that, like two handles, are on Mouths that, separated from any face, unite with other mouths to form a new “speaking for themselves” being, conversely faces that have also joined forces with others and – provided with arms and legs – now directly from the underworld seem to come.

It seems pointless to wonder which world of thoughts and ideas these figures, heads and objects originated from – whether they were sculpted as grave goods, ancestral figures or cult figures. Perhaps it is even reassuring to know that not every newly discovered secret in Africa can be unravelled immediately, that – at least for some time – a culture cannot be dissected like a corpse: Because neither oral traditions nor archaeological by-products give any clues.

Instead, one should perhaps be content with admiring the ingenuity of the design on the one hand and the powerful expressive expression inherent in these sculptures on the other. Judging by these two criteria and the external appearance of the objects, it seems to be about different styles, if not different cultures, which either followed one another or – which at least seems possible – completely independently of one another originated in the same area.

One of the styles shows a mannerist character: the deliberately shifted facial features that give the figures, mostly seated figures with necklaces, signs of dignity or upper arm knives, an uncanny, transcendental, sometimes even malignant expression – princes of another world. As with many of the apparently singularly designed heads that usually end in a tapering neck, the heads of the figures are often hollowed out in the shape of a cup. The hands usually rest on the knees (sometimes quite unmotivated on one of the shoulders) and the genitals – most of them are male – are often oversized and clearly modelled. The individually crafted heads are usually much larger than the figures; they are mostly coarser in execution and much more primitive and direct in style.

What will come to light of this area in northern Ghana, which is inhabited today by the Koma (also Komba, Konkomba, Bekpokpak etc.)? Was the settlement from which the finds originate also a transhipment point for goods – kola nuts from the coast, gold, salt, European goods, etc. – like Salaga at the end of the last century, which is on the way to the coast, or like Kong, Bondoukou and the now-defunct Begho in the west? The lively exchange of goods between the coast and the Niger arc, which probably started around 1500, if not much earlier, when the Mossi states were founded by horsemen from (present-day) Ghana, may well have made its way through this area and provided the economic basis for formed this unusual culture. A culture that will hopefully reveal a lot of works of art to us – and hopefully give us a lot of riddles too! “From: Archäologische Funde aus Komaland. Zurich: Galerie Walu (1987).

Further reading:
Schaedler, Karl-Ferdinand (1997). Earth and ore. Munich: Panterra Verlag.

Koma bulsa figure
Koma Bulsa Figure

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