The part of Africa where bocio
(pronounced bow-chee-aw) are found was the Guinea Coast, or the Slave Coast.
People in this region share not only common sculptural interests, but also belief in vodun, mysterious forces or powers that govern the world and the lives of those who reside within it.
Sculptures of the bocio type function in relationship with these vodun energies, to both protect humans and to offer avenues of individual empowerment and change.
Protection from acts attributed to witches was one of the primary roles of bocio. Because misfortune or death in the community often is said to be brought about by some act of sorcery, in periods of elevated difficulty and morality due to factors such as war, malnutrition, disease, and other causes, witchcraft fears were especially strong. (1)
Fon altar dedicated to Minona, goddess
of motherhood and sorcery.
Added to the surfaces of many bocio works are a wealth of materials, such as cords, iron, skeletal matter, locks, pegs, beads, cloth, gourds, leaves, earth, fur, and feathers, which individually and in combination activate the sculpture and convey key concerns addressed within. Most such objects also emphasize attributes of binding, knotting, or piercing as a means of promoting their larger empowerment and protection roles.
In figural works, the body often serves as a symbolic frame, with particular anatomical parts being bound in cord or pierced with pegs in conjunction with specific problems or desires of the user. Anger for example, is conveyed through wrapping a cord around or placing a peg in the stomach; fears of death are suggested by a peg in the neck, loss of memory by a peg in the forehead; binding or pegging the arms alludes to the diminishment of one's strength. (2)
Fon bocio. wood. height: approx. 15 cm. Abomey, Republic of Benin. Photograph: Suzanne Preston Blier.
Fon bocio. Abomey, Republic of Benin. approx. 1 m. Photograph: Suzanne Preston Blier.