Photo: Karl-Heinz Krieg, 1978

Kereba Koné

Numu blacksmith and sculptor, c. 1910–1995
Diamankani, Côte d’Ivoire

His birth name was Tiekoura Koné, however after his induction into the local Poro group he was known as Kereba Koné. Koné was a member of the Numu caste living and working as a blacksmith and carver in the village of Diamankani near Tengréla located in the far north of Côte d'Ivoire and close to the border with Mali. Working in Diamankani he carved figures for both Senufo and Bamana and other Numu living in the region.

In 1978, Karl-Heinz Krieg documented Kereba Koné as he carved a small female figure using traditional tools and techniques. Sitting in Koné’s courtyard in Diamankani, Krieg watched him as he carved the figure and documenting the process and noting the time it took to carve and decorate this small figure. From its beginning as a simple block of wood to its finished state took approximately five and one-half hours to complete this figure. The greatest amount of that time, three and one-half hours, was devoted to the sculpting of the figure, giving shape to the body and the finely worked details of the face.

After the figure was carved and smoothed it was decorated by Koné applying the ‘hot knife’ technique used by Numu carvers. A knife would be heated to a glowing hot state and laid flat onto the surface of the wood, simultaneously sealing and blackening the surface of the figure. This blackening process took approximately one hour with an additional hour required to pyro-engrave the patterns on the figure representing scarification on the body and face. These fine lines were scored onto the surface by using the edges of the hot knife. As one of the last steps the dark, blackened surface was brought to a high sheen through the application of karité, a butter-like substance extracted from the nuts of the shea palm tree.

Before cutting a branch or downing a tree for the wood to carve a figure or a mask, Koné would wash himself with special magical materials that he called his ‘medicine’ to protect himself from the spirits residing in the tree commenting that “spirits live in the trees and by using this ‘medicine’ nothing can happen to me.” To complete this cycle of magical protection he also said that before he began carving he made it a point to sacrifice a chicken.

The finished figure by Koné shows finely worked details with depiction of scarification and body markings all executed on a strongly proportioned figure. A hallmark of Koné’s carving is the sagittal crest hair-style and the very subtle and highly abstracted facial details.


Ausstellung zum Gedenken an Karl-Heinz Krieg, Tribal Art Apartment, 3–2012, p. 6–7, female figure acquired in 1993 in Diamankani (Côte d’Ivoire), Private Collection Italy
Zemanek-Münster, Tribal Art Auction 87, 11 November 2017, Lot 70, Sammlung Kirbach-Kreß
Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg, Object Number 89.67:5
Yale Archive, no. 0016222, Bamana figure


Private notes taken in the field, Karl-Heinz Krieg

Text: Helen Krieg and Daniel Mato, PhD