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date: 02 June 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Ga’anda people of northeastern Nigeria employ various strategies to preserve and transmit key knowledge of historical events, including the production of material objects decorated to serve as landscapes of memory. The most important of these objects are the ceramic vessels that women artists produce to contain Ga’anda spirit protectors and culture bearers—especially Mbir’thleng’nda and Ngum-Ngumi, who are credited with leading Ga’anda people in their migration westward to their present location. The surfaces of the vessels containing Mbir’thleng’nda and Ngum-Ngumi are embellished with motifs that distinguish their identities and define their meanings and purposes. Patterns of raised nodes or impressed ridges in clay are their most notable shared feature. These patterns render the vessels “scarified” with designs identical to those visible on the skin of Ga’anda women. This scarification, or Thleta, was completed in stages, beginning in a girl’s adolescence, and was a prerequisite to marriage. Though no longer practiced, the permanent alteration of a woman’s skin created a language of history, identity, and collective remembrance for Ga’anda. Thleta designs became a template for inscribing meaning and efficacy in other things, whether gourd bowls for serving food or the most sacred ceramic vessels used to contain, invoke, and supplicate influential Ga’anda tutelary deities.

Keywords: Ga’anda, Nigeria, spirit vessel, clay, Mbir’thleng’nda, Ngum-Ngumi, Thleta scarification, skin, decoration, memory

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