The Lobi belong to an ethnic group that originated in what is today Ghana. Starting around 1770, many Lobi peoples migrated into southern Burkina Faso and later into Côte d'Ivoire. The group consists of around 180,000 people.Lobiri is the name of the language spoken by the Lobi people.
Lobi is a blanket term that refers to several closely related ethnic groups that comprise roughly 7% of the Burkinabe population, including the main Lobi proper, Birifor, Dagara, Dorossy, Dyan (aka Jãa), Gan and Tenbo/Loron (aka Lorhon, Teese, Teguessie and Thuuna). It is important to recognize that among them, only the Gan belong to a politically centralized, and royal, society. Other groups are commonly referred to as "acephalous," which is misleading, but is meant to signal the absence of centralized political authority. Traditions vary among the groups, but some share a common sense of identity through participation in an initiation ceremony called joro (or dyoro), which takes place every seven years. In terms of kinship, decsent is bilineal. Many Lobi houses also share an architectural style, which consists of an earthen compound with walls made from horizontal courses. Most are single-story, and rarely include more than a few small, strategically placed holes to allow light in and to allow inhabitants to view the exterior surrounds. Historically, Lobi warriors used poisoned arrows to fend off attackers (including French colonists). Largely through the use of village and personal shrines, they also share animist beliefs in order to maintain a productive relationship with the spiritual world. They achieve this specifically through regular interaction with spirits called thila, which inhabit a wide range of natural areas and man-made objects, such as bateba, or anthropomorphic shrine figures that are now also well recognized in the art world. Thila are ambivalent beings that require regular offerings--via sacrifice-- in exchange for a wide range of protective and benevolent actions. They are intermediaries with Thangba Yu, the remote Creator God.
The name Lobi originates from two Lobiri words: lou (forest) and bi (children), meaning literally, "children of the forest" who settled initially on the left bank of the Mouhoun River or the Black Volta dividing Burkina Faso and Ghana. The Mouhoun River is important to Lobi peoples for many reasons. In terms of migration history, it marks an escape from slave raiders in present day Ghana. In myth, it symbolizes a dividing line between this world and the next, similar to the River Styx of Roman mythology. The Lobi crossed the Mounhoun centuries ago from east to west and settled in the lands and brought with them deep animist beliefs and superstition. According to Lobi legend, the spirits of the deceased must return across the river to rejoin their honorable ancestors in the ancient world. The banks of the Mounhoun are used in initiation rites and fish and animals in the river are considered sacred.
The Lobi inhabit parts of southern Burkina Faso. According to the director of the museum in Gaoua which is considered to be the capital of the Lobi, "The Lobi is a farmer, a hunter and a herder, but above all he is a warrior". Victims of slave raids, rival clans and civil disputes, they are among the fiercest and proudest inhabitants of Burkina Faso and were constantly under attack from the Guiriko and Kenedougou empires during the 19th century. Bakary Ouattara, brother of the founder of the Guiriko empire led an offensive against the Lobi in 1815, and despite setting fire to several villages he was eventually killed by a poisoned arrow. He was succeeded by Karakara who continued with the raids leading up to the devastating attack in 1850 where they suffered heavily and lost a great deal but were never completely defeated.
In June 1898, the French and the British made an agreement that the Lobi country would go under French jurisdiction. Attempts at controlling the peoples was difficult and the Lobi became known for their resistance using poisoned arrows in attempting to thwart the French colonial invasion. In 1914, during the outbreak of World War I, the French colonial administration based in Gaoua began a merciless repression to the extent that the local were forbidden in copying any traits of the white man in the area. During the twentieth century some migrated into Côte d'Ivoire.
The Lobi are well documented for their animist beliefs, which involves regular interaction with ancestral and other types of spirits such as thila and kontuoursi. Interaction with these spirits commonly takes place in a thilduu (domestic shrine room), dithil (village shrine), and at other places in nature inhabited by spirits. Christian missionaries working in southern Burkina Faso have reported that an elderly man in a Lobi village once renounced the spirits in favor of Christianity by discarding his fetishes in a nearby lake. As he turned his back on the traditions, the fetishes lept out of the lake onto his back again to reclaim him. Lobi people who convert to Christianity or Islam now usually burn their fetishes. Or, they may sell them on the market.
In Lobi animism, Thangba Yu is the creator of all living things. Lobi peoples have no direct contact with Him, but are dependent on nature spirits known as thila, invisible intermediaries that can harness their supernatural powers towards good or evil. They set rules soser, which dictate how a Lobi should behave in important aspects of life. Similar to Greek or Roman gods, thila themselves are subject to mortal virtues and vices. In Lobi society, there is often a thildaar (village diviner) that may also act as a dithildaar (village priest; each village has only one) that interprets soser for the local community. A particularly intuitive and receptive thildaar is capable of interpreting as many as fifty or more spirits at a time.
Lobi dwellings are characterized as large rectangular or polygonal compounds known as maison soukala. They are spaced well from each other and are composed of a single vast mud banco wall and a small entrance. An entrance to a Lobi house is a relatively recent development. At many houses, there is a ladder made from a large, Y-shaped tree trunk with notched steps, which lead up to the roof where inhabitants may access an interior granary and their own rooms below. Access to individual sleeping quarters is also available inside. Only the tyuordaarkuun (or head of the household; there is no "chief" in Lobi society) can give permission to enter the house. The roof is broad and flat and forms a terrace which provides a lookout point but can also be used for sleeping in the dry season. Domestic animals have their own space, and water is gathered from a well or the river. The rooms inside a Lobi house are very dark, and the size varies in relation to function. Each wife has a room for herself and her children where meals are prepared. Large earthenware jars used to hold water or other personal belongings are often stacked up against the kitchen walls and are a testament to the owner's economic status.