Prior to the sixteenth century, the Tellem occupied the region of the Bandiagara escarpment in Mali, until they were defeated by the Dogon, who currently inhabit the area. The Tellem assimilated into the Dogon, but their sculptures are still found in the burial caves of the region.
The human form with raised arms is a common pose for Tellem sculptures and is said to refer to prayers for rain, crucial in this dry region. The thick, crusted surface is the result of many sacrificial offerings, a mixture of blood, millet beer porridge, and other organic materials. The figures served as a means of contacting spiritual intermediaries; sacrifices were thought to induce these spirits to grant aid.
Figure with raised arms. Wood base, completely covered with rough, dull grey patina from accretion of sacrificial substances. Facial features indistinct, protruding triangle suggests beard, above long cylindrical neck. Long arms extend over head, bent slightly backwards; two oval shapes on chest indicating breasts. Head and torso continuous; rounded buttocks and short legs, with blackish feet. CONDITION: Part of right foot broken off; slight crack extending from back to buttocks.