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“Strange but Somehow Beautiful” Art of the Adan People of south-east Ghana
Adan figure. 44 cms high.
According to Professor Robert Farris Thompson, figures having the left arm raised and the right arm pointing downwards are “calling on God”. 
Although I have been interested in the study of African art for over thirty years, I only came across figurative carvings made by the Adan people of south eastern Ghana some ten years ago. One London dealer, Owen Hargreaves, began to import and sell such carvings, which he described as “ancestor figures”. He also added that the figures were kept in the eaves of houses and that they were brought out once a year to be ceremonially washed and, if appropriate, dusted with white kaolin powder before being returned to the eaves. I must say that I am always a little suspicious when I hear African carvings being described as “ancestor figures”, because further research often indicates that such figures are not as previously described. The phrase “ancestor figures” was often used by early collectors as something of a catch-all, even when the figures in question were clearly not representations of the ancestors. There is a saying in Haiti, “When the anthropologist arrives, the gods depart”.  But, in truth, some, though not all, Adan figures do have a connection with departed souls, though, as we shall see, in a slightly roundabout way.
The Adan are a small sub-group of the Ewe people and live in south-east Ghana, close to the border with Togo. They are believed to only number about 2,200 people. They are also known under a variety of names, such as Ada, Adangme, Adangbe, Adantomwi, Agotime, Dangbe or Ga, and they believe that they originally came from southern Egypt, leaving there in the 15th century. Adan oral history suggests that they travelled through present day Ethiopia before arriving in Nigeria, where they settled in the towns of Ife and Tado. Once there, the people split into four distinct groups. The first moved group moved to Togo, where they became known as the Ewe, the second group moved to Porto Novo, on the coast of Benin, and became associated with both the Yoruba and the Fon people. The third group settled in the district of Keta, in Ghana, where they became the “Ewe of Ghana”, while the fourth group moved to the area around Ada, in south-east Ghana, some 35km from Accra. This fourth group became the present day Adan. Interestingly, the Adan language appears to be related to that of the Igbo people of eastern Nigeria, and thus appears to confirm that the Adan did, at one time, live in Nigeria. 
EARLY ACCOUNTS OF ADAN ART
Sometime around 1920, Sir Cecil Hamilton Armitage presented four small wooden figure carvings to the British Museum. He had collected them in what was then the Gold Coast, now Ghana, sometime during the period 1895 – 1920 and the Museum catalogued the carvings as being from the Ada people. As explained above, the name Ada is one used for the Adan people who now live in south-east Ghana, close to the border with Togo. These four carvings were probably the first Adan pieces to be brought out of Africa and it is unlikely that they were ever displayed publically by the Museum. In 1958 Ladislas Segy included two illustrations of similar figures in his book African Sculpture. One figure (plate 12) is said to represent Ariza, “the malevolent spirit”. It only has one arm. The second figure (plate 13) represents Arbor, the “spirit of water” and the figure’s left arm holds something on top of its head. Both figures are said to be from the region of the “Black Volta”, although no details are given as to which people carved the figures.
A photograph of a further Adan figure, actually incorrectly attributed as being from the Ewe people of Togo, appeared in a Dutch book that was printed in 1971. This was A. G. Claerhout’s Nederlands en belgisch bezif uit openbare verzamelingen. Openbaar Kunstbezif. Nederland & Vlaanderen (Plate 43. A “Water carrier” figure, called Abor.) Finally, in 2002, the Afrika Museum at Berg en Dal in the Netherlands produced a two volume set of books, Forms of Wonderment. The history and collection of the Afrika Museum, Berg en Dal, which includes two photographs of Adan figures. In both photographs the figures are labelled as being figures made by the Konkomba, a people who live in north-east Ghana (Volume 1, page 258 & Volume 2, page 397). Subsequent enquiries with the Museum confirm that the figures were initially misattributed by the person selling them to the Museum and it is now agreed that these are Adan carvings. The second photograph is interesting in that it shows four Adan figures, each standing in a small clay pot. The pots have been filed with earth into which the figures have been planted. There may be a connection here with similar pots described and illustrated in the book Geest en Kracht – Vodun uit West-Afrika / Spirit Power – West African Vodun (published by The Afrika museum, Bergen Dal, The Netherlands. 1996. p.113. Dutch and English text).
TYPES OF ADAN FIGURATIVE ART
"Le monde invisible est le maître du visible"
Guérin Montilus 
In her book African Vodun. Art, Psychology, and Power Suzanne Preston Blier talks about the aziza, which she outlines as “miniature forest dwellers (who) are believed to control the hunt and all that pertains to the forest…Descriptions of the aziza vary. While few individuals claim to have ever seen them (indeed, many assert that ordinarily they are invisible), others characterize them as small, humanlike forms with a single leg and a long white hair”.  Quoting from a Roberto Pazzi mimeograph of 1976, she adds:
(The aziza is)…a fairy having one leg, one arm, a single hair that covers them entirely and making them invisible. They inhabit the forest and their houses are in large termite mounds. One does not whistle in the woods for fear of attracting their attention. One does not collect a bundle of wood that one finds beside the road because the aziza could have placed it there, to come back to get it later…Aziza know the virtues of leaves and it is they that reveal them to humans. That is why one fears and venerates its mysterious power. 
It would therefore seem that the figure called Ariza, “the malevolent spirit” by Ladislas Segy, is a depiction of aziza.
Adan figure. Height 14 cms
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