Posters, Popular Painting and Animation: The Inkale Theme

Quite a while ago I was chatting to my friend Paula who is conducting her doctoral research on African animation. Reading through the draft for an article and discussing a work by Jean Michel Kibushi of the Democratic Republic of Congo I was struck by an illustration: I was hundred percent sure I had seen the same or an iconographically closely related painting at Sabon Kwakwaci Garage in Kano. How exciting I thought. And a few weeks ago, flicking through a volume on African Posters I just happened to come across an illustration of a very similar scene by R. Nwonta of CAS Creation, Janual Caeli Marketing, Onitsha in 2001.

When it comes to my research I seem to react like a toddler who first discovers the world around herself – so yes, I still think that is exciting and, hence, will bother you not only with the illustrations (not of Paula’s article though, sorry) but also with the little information I have been able to find about the so-called Inkale theme.

Wendelin Schmidt, one of the editors of the volume Plakate in Afrika that accompanied a 2005 exhibition at the Museum der Weltkulturen, Frankfurt a.M., and later the same year at the Iwalewa House, Bayreuth, writes with regard to the motif (my quick translation):

‘ … Many calendars draw upon the tradition of sign painters. These don’t conceive of themselves as commercial painters only but also as artist who, in addition to the business, paint pictures in order to articulate their fantasies as well as to visualize discourses about political, social and religious themes. Popular is the Inkale theme which is widespread in Africa (e.g. Congo-Zaire and Senegal). Here a man is shown in a desperate situation hanging on to a tree branch extending over some water. On the banks a tiger and a lion (symbols of influence and power) approach. In the water a hippo and a crocodile (the last a symbol of traditional-religious spirits) wait to seize him. A huge snake moving dangerously close blocks the only escape route. This desperate scene is accompanied by Bible quotes promising salvation and redemption through God. This Inkale theme communicates two different messages: Primarily it suggest that trust in God is required to master desperate situations. Another, political interpretation might consider Inkale a metaphor of an exploitative and corrupt state deceiving its citizens. In that case, the poster’s message in Nigeria were diametrically opposed to the first one. Here, the lion were to represent the state power, the snake to symbolise the Christian evil, and, in a trans-African mindscape [Vorstellungswelt], the crocodile is considered a pagan god playing an important role in witchcraft and magic. The crocodile then represents the impact of occult practices in political and socio-economic aspects of everyday life. The mighty employ such practices to protect themselves against spiritual and worldly attacks by opponents as well as to accumulate riches and influence through intransparent and immoral means. …’

(Schmidt 2005: ‘Populaerkultur und visuelle Kommunikation: Plakat-“Kunst” in Ghana und Nigeria. In: Schmidt & Kramer, eds.: Plakate in Afrika. Frankfurt a.M.: Museum der Weltkulturen. 32-35)

This is what Bogumil Jewsiewicki had to say with regard to the Inkale theme.

Un autre tableau [de Tshibumba] utilise l’icône d’inkale pour faire dialoguer l’événement et le sens partagé du monde. L’inkale, qui signifie l’impasse, est une icône représentant une personne prise en étau entre la sorcellerie (le crocodile), l’État (un prédateur, lion ou léopard selon la version) et le péché chrétien (le serpent). Dans le tableau en question, Tshibumba place les exploitants de diamants dans la position du personnage, les soldats dans celle du lion, et un hélicoptère est substituéau serpent.

(Bogumil Jewsiewicki, 2001: ‘Pour un Pluralisme Epistemologique en Sciences Sociales.’ In: Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales. Vol. 2001/3. 634)

As this is kind of a digressionf rom the actual focus of my research, I haven't yet dug anyt deeper for further information on this particular theme - so if anybody can contribute anything, I'd be very grateful. But for now, let's leave it here and ... well, you enjoy the illustrations I go back writing on my PhD.


  1. CORRECTION: I've just discovered a mean typo in the above entry but I'm just too lazy to repost the whole write-up(the edit function still doesn't allow me to repost the edited version of the blog entry)so I'll just note that here: the artist is called R. NKWONTA in Onitsha. Sorry-oh.


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