Power Figure, Bocio



Power Figure, Bocio


Effigy, fetish, mixed media, sculpture


late 19th-early 20th Century


West Africa, Benin, Africa


Wood, glass, bone, iron, fiber
22 5/8 x 6 5/16 x 6 3/8 in. (57.5 x 16 x 16.2 cm)

Object Number



Bocio are power objects (bo) that represent deceased human beings (chio). A bocio is not a spirit, but a kind of decoy meant to trick death by acting as a substitute for a real person. Formerly, the Fon people of Dahomey (now Benin) placed bocio figures in tombs along with the deceased so that the dead person could not then claim another person's life. Essentially bocios are commissioned as a safeguard against misfortune, witchcraft, and death.

The core of this bocio is a standing female figure carved in wood, but several other objects have been affixed to it. Bottles are fastened to the front and the back of the figure, a metal disk is nailed into the head, and skulls of a reptile, a bird, and a small mammal are bound to it. The bottles are plugged and may have once contained potent substances prescribed by a diviner. The process of binding objects together is an important component of empowering the bocio figure. To further "energize" it, offerings -- which may include corn meal, blood, saliva, and urine -- are poured over it. Not only do the addition of these materials make the object more powerful, but this augmentation continually transforms the bocio's appearance as a work of art.

There are several types of bocio figures, including those associated with divination (Fa), and other types with royalty, with sorcery and anti-sorcery, and with the gods (vodun). All but the royal bocio retained their importance in the lives of Fon and Ewe people from Dahomey and present-day Togo. The dispersion of these peoples during the slave trade created a creolized version of bo in Haiti and later among Haitian ex-slaves in the United States. Their cloth dolls performed protective and "attack" functions similar to carved bocio figures, and like them, were closely associated with the dead and with cemeteries. In Haiti it was the manbo (mother of bo) priestess and the bokor (knowledgeable in bo) sorcerer who, along with the hungan, were responsible for their manufacture and for activating them ritually.

Credit Line

Ex coll. William S. Arnett


The Art of Collecting: Recent Acquisitions at the Michael C. Carlos Museum, Michael C. Carlos Museum, November 8, 1997 - January 4, 1998|
Divine Intervention: African Art and Religion, Michael C. Carlos Museum, February 5 - December 4, 2011


© Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. Photo by Bruce M. White, 2008.
This image is provided by the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University, who retains all rights in it. This image is made available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined by United States law. For all other uses, please contact the Michael C. Carlos Museum Office of Collections Services at +1(404) 727-4282 or mccm.collections.services@emory.edu. Users must cite the author and source of the image as they would material from any printed work, but not in any way that implies endorsement of the user or the user's use of the image. Users may not remove any copyright, trademark, or other proprietary notices, including without limitation attribution information, credits, and copyright notices that have been placed on or near the image by the Museum. The Museum assumes no responsibility for royalties or fees claimed by the artist or third parties. The User agrees to indemnify and hold harmless Emory University, its Michael C. Carlos Museum, its agents, employees, faculty members, students and trustees from and against any and all claims, losses, actions, damages, expenses, and all other liabilities, including but not limited to attorney’s fees, directly or indirectly arising out of or resulting from its use of photographic images for which permission is granted hereunder.

On View



“Power Figure, Bocio,” Michael C. Carlos Museum Collections Online, accessed December 11, 2018, http://carlos.digitalscholarship.emory.edu/items/show/7972.

Social Bookmarking


Copy the code below into your web page