Sunday, April 26, 2015

Collectors and museums steal these Konso tribe wooden statues

The Konso didn't think to preserve the wagas (wakas) until local and outside thieves began stealing them when the wooden statues became a red hot commodity for collectors and museums. They are cool looking.  Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.

Wooden statues to honor their heros

Ethiopia's Konso tribe carves wooden statues called wagas (wakas) as grave markers to commemorate tribal heros. One elder defined a hero as either one who has been a good tribal leader/administrator or someone who killed a wild animal threatening the village. In the olden days, the tribe erected wagas for a warrior who killed an enemy. 

Since they are unique, collectors and museums from around the world have stolen many wagas. Naturally, the Konso have become quite protective of them. 

But I had spent days interviewing the elders to learn about their myths, stories and archetypal dreams, (plus I have a face even my wife's mother trusted—after I had been married for 8 years), so on both of my trips, amazingly, I was allowed free access to photograph all of the wagas. 

Originally these wagas (wakas) were totally exposed to weather's harsh erosion. Now a small tin roof (seen in the photo below) was errected. Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.
Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.

These are the hero's wifes in the grouping pictured below.  Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.
The hero is the tallest wooden statue. The smaller ones surrounding him are his wives and children.  Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.
This is the well prepared hero from the grouping pictured above. I could never find out why someone gave him a crown of vines. Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.

I photographed these wagas on my 2001 trip. By my 2007 trip, they had disappeared. Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.

This is the son of the hero for whom these wagas were errected. He is represented by one of the small wooden figures behind him on the left. Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.

Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.

Behind the father and his sons, you can make out the feet and torso of some family wagas. Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.

On my second trip to the Konso, one of the village women challenged me when I wanted to photograph this site where waga once stood. The local culture minister jumped in to my rescue to explain I had permission from the elders. I must say, as you can see by his terse body language, he was a little harsh with the poor woman. I wanted to hug her and thank her for what she was trying to do. But me knowing only 20 words of Konso stopped me from any serious communication.  Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.

On my first trip, I was shown this storage room full of wagas recovered from thieves. Then, with a smile, the caretaker offered me one. Wow, I could easily picture the wooden statue in my living room. But that was exactly the problem, so could lots of other collectors and museums. I declined the kind offer and took a photo to hang in my living room.  There is now a Konso Cultural Center displaying wagas.  Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.

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