CONTINUITY AND RENEWAL IN
URHOBO ART MUSEUM FOR AFRICAN ART New York SNOECK Gent COPYRIGHT PROTECTED
Where Gods and Mortals Meet CONTINUITY AND RENEWAL IN
Where Gods and mortals Meet CONTINUITY AND RENEWAL IN
1 Edited by Perkins Foss
With Foreword by Peter Ekeh Contributions by G. G. Darah Michael Y. Nabofa Tanure Ojaide Bruce Onobrakpeya John Picton and Appendices by Ikpama Aduri ChiefOghenegweke
MUSEUM OF AFRICAN ART,New York SNOECK PUBLISHERS,Ghent
To my dear sons Ben and Chris, alon8 with countless Urhobo men and women,
I am proud to dedicate this work WHERE GODS AND MORTALS MEET is published in conjunction with an exhibition ofthe same title organized by the Museumfor African Art, New York.The exhibition has been made possible throug hgrantsfrom the National Endowmentfor the Humanities,the National Endowmentfor the Arts, and the New York Councillor the Humanities,a state affiliate ofthe National Endowmentfor the Humanities. Any views,findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect those ofthe National Endowmentfor the Humanities. T.;
1.1.0101.1Al t.00.10.1.11 FOR 1ME
New York Council for the Humanities
rne T. â€˘â€˘rt
Curator Perkins Foss Text Editor David Frankel
Copyright April 2004 CI Museumfor African Art, New York; Snoeck-Ducaju & Zoon,Gent. All rights reserved. No part ofthis publication may be reproduced without written permissionfrom the Museumfor African Art,36-01 43rd Avenue, Long Island City, NY 11101. www.africanartorg. Library ofCongress Control Number:2004102120 Paper bound ISBN 0-945802-36-6 Cloth bound ISBN90-5349-506-1 D/2004/0012/6
DesOn:Annick Blommaert Printed,and bound in Belgium by Snoeck-Ducaju & Zoon,Gent.
"Bouquet ofSongs," by Tanure Ojaide, published in In the Kingdom ofSongs: A Trilogy ofPoems, 1995-2000,'Trenton: African World Press, ZOO1, is reproduced here with perrnissionfrom the author. Front: Cat.64 Mask. Wood,pigment encrustation. H.32 cm.Private Collection Belgium. Back: Fig. 30 An iphri performance at Edjekota.July 17, 1972. Cat.6o "Leopard in Cornfield," 1984, by Bruce Onobrakprya, Nigerian, b. 1932. Color lithograph.68 x43 cm.Private Collection. Frontispiece and back cover Statuefor male aggression(iphri). Wood,pigment. H. 108 cm. Collection Henriats & Nina Simonis, Dusseldorf
Photo credits: Catalogue objects by number Arte Primitivo, New York,39; Art Gallery ofOntario,43; Roger Asselberghs, Brussels, 19,23,24,28, 30-32,51,52,65; Dick Beaulieux,33; Hushes Dubois,37; Beatrice Hatala,34,50,66,71; Forostudio Herrebrugh,8,25,38,64; International Carnival and Mask Museum,Binche, 10,62; Frank Khoury, 12;John Knaub,Office Academic Technology, Universiry ofFlorida,72,73;Schecter Lee,41; Robert Linhout,47;The Metropolitan Museum ofArt, 15; Pace Primitive Gallery, New York,35,44,45;J. Schanze, 1,55,68,frontispiece; Gregory R.Staley, 14,21,29,42,48;Jerry L Thompson,2,3,4,5,7, 11, 16, 17, 18, 20,22,26, 27,36,46,49,53,54,58,59,60,61,63,67,69,74,76;Serge Veignant,56,57,70; and lender, 13. Field photographs were all taken byguest curator, Perkins Foss, with the exception offigs. 5,8,9,20,21,44,46-49,52,0,58,59, 61,62,64,65 by Susan C. Moore;fig. 34 by K.C. Murray, with permissionfrom the Nigerian National Commission on Museums and Monuments;fig. 12 by Claudia Obrocki, Ethnologisches Museum Berlin; andfigs. 31,38 by Heini Schneebeli, with permission from the British Museum.
Contents Preface Acknowledgements Foreword:Fresh Perspectives on Urhobo Culture
An Introduction to the Urhobo Urhobo World View
Urhobo Art in the Literature
Urhobo Art and Religious Belief Gifts from the Gods: Works in Copper Alloy from Urhobo Medicine Shrines
MICHAEL Y. NABOFA
G. G. DARAH
Iphri: Art for Controlling Aggression Obtaining An Iphri
How the Urhobo People See the World through Art
Huge,Fearsome Beauty:Statuary for the Edjo
Agbogidi:A Vision ofan Urhobo Shrine
Color Symbolism in Urhobo Art
Masks and Masquerades: The Enactment ofthe Edjo
Urhobo Performance Arts109 G. G. DARAH Ohworhu:A Spectacle for the Spirits Bouquet ofSongs
On Marking and Masking in the Art of Bruce Onobrakpeya
Pride and Preservation: Urhobo Art and Culture in the Twenty-first Century
Appendix I: Praise Poetry for lphri Appendix II: Ohworhu-Ame Festival: A Chronicle Contributors Glossary ofUrhobo terms and phrases Bibliography Donors and Staff
146 147 149
Since the museums'founding in 1984 we have tried to maintain a balance in our choice ofshows between those focused on an intellectual topic or a new way of looking at African art and those that emphasized an aesthetic approach to the objects. Obviously,all shows provide some elements ofboth ofthese approaches. Over the years we have presented a number ofexhibitions focused on the art ofa single people,from the Yoruba and Igbo ofNigeria,the Guro and Baule ofC6te d'Ivoire,the Luba ofCongo, most recently the Bamana ofMali, and presently, the Urhobo ofNigeria. Just as they do in fashion, trends change in the field ofAfrican art studies,and the current trend favors exhibitions that deal with more than one ethnic group.The theory seems to be that the field has reached a point ofmaturity where it should try to make sense oflarger units rather thanjust a single people. Where Gods and Mortals Meet: Continuiry and Renewal in Urhobo Art would thus seem to be out ofstyle in 2004, dealing as it does with one people and their art. We are, however,particularly pleased to present this special exhibition which speaks simultaneously to the art ofa single people and to a compelling theme for all traditional peoples. The exhibition is the summation ofa lifetime ofresearch and intimate involvement with the Urhobo people by Dr. Perkins Foss dating back to 1966. While many scholars have developed an intellectual and emotional involvement with an African people, the duration and strength ofPerk's ties are exceptional.Thanks to this special relationship, this exhibition has benefited from the participation ofmany Urhobo scholars and artists. It has become a project ofthe Urhobo people,in Nigeria,Europe and America,and is remarkable also for the backgrounds of the contributors. They range from villagers to eminent teachers and scholars to the celebrated artist Bruce Onobrakpeya.This is truly their exhibition. The Urhobo have had to cope with extremes ofsocial, economic and environmental change. Their world offarming and fishing has largely disappeared and with it has gone much oftheir villages,their livelihoods and the religious and social structures described in this volume.The Urhobo diaspora has spread out over the rest ofNigeria,Europe and North America.Older Urhobo confront the problem ofmaintaining cultural identity in New York or Lagos,and oftransmitting a sense oftheir history and culture to children and grandchildren who do not speak the language, nor have seen an iphri or a water spirit mask For them,this exhibition has great personal significance as a means ofteaching their children what it means to be Urhobo in the twenty-first century. For those Americans who are dealing with similar problems ofmaintaining connections to a disappearing past, the Urhobos'efforts have a strong and highly personal poignancy. We would like to thank the Urhobo associations in Nigeria, the United Kingdom and the United States for helping to make this exhibition possible.The staffofthe Museum for African Art has all worked hard to give the exhibition and catalogue form and meaning.Generous supportfrom the National Endowment for the Humanities and from the National Endowment for the Arts, have enabled us to assemble articles, photographs and objects from museums and collectors throughout the US and Europe. Finally, our profound thanks go to ChiefPerkins Foss, whose labor, understanding and lifetime dedication have produced this exhibition. ELSIE McCABE President, Museumfor African Art
What follows is roughly a chronological journey starting in 1965, when I had a freshly minted undergraduate degree in the history ofart, high on enthusiasm, but low on concrete plans. The individuals cited here have shaped me profoundly, and I take great pleasure in thanking them.At the outset, I would like to state that while I have received myriad amounts ofhelp,any shortcomings in this project are clearly mine alone. I would hope that in generations CO come, more work will be done on Urhobo art and culture, and this volume can be seen as only a start. I first heard the word Urhobo from Kenneth Murray, in mid-August 1965, at the Nigerian Museum in Lagos, as he responded to my enquiry about seeking an assignment with the museum as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer. On the basis of a ten-day visit that he made there in 1949, he casually suggested that I go "have a look around in Urhobo,and see what there is to do," thus offering the start of a lifetime preoccupation with this relatively unknown, small, and delightful group who lived on the western edge ofthe Niger Delta. I was introduced to Murray on that fateful day by Robert Farris Thompson, with whom I was traveling, soon after I had taken his History ofArt 78b at Yale. In those days he enrolled about a dozen students,and nearly every day after class we would talk and drink coffee at a nearby shop. Little did I know how powerful RFT's influence would be. A year hence I was living in Sapele trying to sort out the basics ofUrhobo language and culture. Today,I still aspire to hold my scholarship to his superbly high standard. During one of my first days offield work, in the small community ofAdagbrassa-Uno, a man quietly handed me a business card that had a note on its reverse,"Please See Me."The other side identified The Hon.ChiefT. E.A.Salubi,retired Federal Minister ofLabor,and one oftwo men who had in years past founded the Urhobo Progress Union.I did as requested, not without certain trepidation. As we talked, I realized that he was aware of where I had been during my initial encounters in Urhobo towns. His support was complete and positive. For the following two years I regularly visited him and his wife at their house at Ovu Inland; they in turn offered generous introductions to key people far and near. These contacts included: Djere Etinagberia at Oghrerhe who facilitated my work on the eshe ancestor figures there. ChiefUghwanogho("Okparuku")at Orogun,a legend in his own times, the oldest living Urhobo, who received me on three occasions. Kumakpepeyi Onodjefemue ofEfru, a brilliant chronicler ofthe Uvwie Village Group. At the Nigerian Museum,Lagos,in addition to Murray,other individuals offered valuable support:John Picton(at the start ofwhat would become a lifetime friendship), Ekpo Eyo, Michael Nkanta,Emily Aig-Imokhuede. Also in Lagos,I was offered creature comforts by Raymond and Pauline Baker,Lloyd and Sarah Garrison,as well as George and Emily Orick. On the return to graduate school in 1968,! was given help and encouragement from many members ofthe Yale faculty, including: Daniel Biebuyck,Ann Coffin Hanson,Richard Neal Henderson,George Kubler,Paul Newman and Vincent Scully. Robert Farris Thompson continued as my main mentor and close friend. He saw me through my thesis; as his first graduate student,I received most generous attention and guidance. During July and August 1971,I visited many archives and museums in the United Kingdom en route to Nigeria. At the British Museum,William Fagg and John Picton made possible generous access to the Orsman Street Stores as well as to the archives and registers at Great Russell Street, and the galleries at the Burlington Arcade. In Birmingham,Rosaline Bradbury, widow ofthe great scholar ofBenin art and culture, R. E. Bradbury,kindly opened her late husband's files and it was here that I saw the unpublished notes and photographs from his brief but productive travels into Urhobo villages that were contiguous to Benin. In Liverpool, access to papers as well as to works ofart was made possible by Maurice Joy. Here I was able to see some
significant objects that entered their collection in the last half of the nineteenth century, from the Ridyard and Whitehouse collections. At the Museum ofArchaeology and Ethnology,and at the Haddon Library, both in Cambridge,I was fortunate to have the help ofG.I. Jones, recently retired after a lifetime ofscholarly endeavors in Igbo country, to the immediate east ofthe Urhobo. It was here that I first saw photographs that were taken in northern Urhoboland by Northcote W. Thomas, between 1905 and 1910. On a day trip to Norwich,I met the Rev. James Waddington Hubbard,then in his 8os, who showed me photographs, taken in the mid-193os ofshrine sculpture in wood and clay from Eju and Enwe, both in Isoko. Hubbard's monograph on the Urhobo stands to this day as a valuable contribution to the field. The photograph archives at the library ofthe Nigerian Museum,Lagos, part ofthe Department ofAntiquities(now the Nigerian Commission of Museums and Monuments)- established and maintained by K. C. Murray-offered crucial documentation ofUrhobo and neighboring traditions. Likewise, its reserve collection contained valuable examples ofthe art ofthe western delta. I am grateful to the NML stafffor facilitating access. At University College, Ibadan(now the University ofIbadan), Mr. Andrew Evborokhai allowed me generous hours in the University Archives. Here I read the Intelligence and Assessment Reports that were compiled by colonial officers in the 1930s in many parts ofUrhoboland. My months offield work in 1971-1972 were facilitated by many individuals. First, there were the /vie ofnumerous village groups, especially helpful were Okpara I ofAgbon,Adjara II ofOgor, Oharisi ofUghelli. Special recognition goes to these individuals who were highly committed to my project, and often took risky positions that enabled me to enter into shrines that were not usually open to Urhobo, much less to visiting scholars: Meriorhe Arhirhe,Ikpama Aduri and Etuke Odjesa ofEdjekota; ChiefAphunu and Oviede Aramuemu Aki ofEvwreni; Ovedje and Erumagborie, both superb ikenike dancers from Oto-Edo; ChiefErhiagbologa Ughen ofOtughienvwe; Onojete Ematele ofOvu; E. B. Wetan ofSapele; Chiefs Okorhikre and ChiefOteri ofUghelli;Samson Ohirian ofUkpe Olomu. My former wife,Susan C. Moore(then Susan Moore Foss) played an active and vital part to my research and writing in the years 1967-1976. She also took many ofthe field photographs included herein. I would like to thank her for all these efforts. Especially significant was her work with the brides ofOrughworun and Oto-Edo. During my years at Dartmouth College, various colleagues learned more about Urhobo art than they ever thought they would, and in the process I learned much from them: Bill Cook, Jim Fernandez, Greg Finnegan, and Joy Kenseth. Others at other institutions were ready to answer questions and make comments of their own: Nigel Barley, Herman Burrsens, Douglas Fraser, Bernard de Grunne, Fi Herbert, Marilyn Houlberg, John Mack, Patrick McNaughton, Keith Nicklin,Phil Peek, George Preston, Labelle Prussin, Guy van Rijn,Jill Salmons, Roy Sieber,Susan Vogel. By 1983, I embarked on a new career. Two colleagues:Tom Eismeier at the Hartland(VT)Elementary School and Alice Gunderson at the Lebanon(NH)Elementary School listened and learned about African art, particularly about the Urhobo. At Lebanon, we produced a Children's African Water Spirit Festival. Three hundred students(ages six to eight) under the guidance of my dear friend and choreographer Arthur Hall designed an adapted version ofthe Ohworhu festival. In years to come,Arthur went on to produce similar events at over fifty schools in twelve states. Urhobo traditions touched thousands ofAmerican lives. My one regret is that this superb man died before he could travel with me to Urhoboland. In 1992, I returned to higher education and soon enough I had convinced the Department ofArt at Plymouth State College (now University) to establish a course in African art. Bill Haust, Dick Hunnewell and Naomi Kline became overnight Africanists ofsorts and keen commentators on my work. The Dean ofFaculty supported two trips to Nigeria, and Bruce Onobrakpeya came to PSC as an artist in residence. Once again, Urhobo was on the move. In September 1997,Bob Thompson called, with a characteristic,"Got a minute?"He had suggested that Frank Herreman talk to me about doing an Urhobo exhibition at the Museum for African Art. Again,a fateful encounter with my former mentor. Frank Herreman and Laurie Farrell have invested huge amounts ofpositive spirit and energy into helping this project. In the middle,there was September 11,and a move out ofSoho. Various funding crises came and went,and in the end we have an exhibition that is as much theirs as mine.They have been my inspiration since the start. Ben Winters and Jerry Vogel offered reliable help as commentators throughout. Steven Frankel edited grant applications, and David Frankel's edits brought conformity and grace to this book Margo Donaldson never gave up when it came to fighting for the grants that have funded Where Gods and Mortals Meet. Carol Braide has-nearly single-handedly-produced the book. She brought the pieces together in a most kind and good-spirited way.
My colleagues who have written essays for this volume all have my gratitude: G.G.Darah,Peter Ekeh,Michael Nabofa, Tanure Ojaide, Bruce Onobrakpeya,john Picton. They have suffered through drafts and revisions. They also have guided much ofmy own writing,and have helped me over the syntactic and orthographic problems that I face in writing Urhobo. Two Urhobo gentlemen living in New York deserve special thanks: Dr. John Aruegodore Oyiborhoro and ChiefAnthony Akponvwonwon Ukoli-as loyal consultants on the project-have provided crucial liaison with the wider Urhobo community both in New York and elsewhere in the world. As the fearless leader ofthe Urhobo Historical Society, Peter Ekeh has introduced me to literally hundreds ofUrhobo men and women living in the Diaspora. The following agencies and institutions have provided generous financial support at various stages: • Yale Universiry, for Graduate Fellowships that supported two years ofgraduate school, as well as two grants from the Concilium for International and Area Studies that provided the means for me to return to Urhobo in May-June 1969 and to study Urhobo language with William Oyaide in 1969-1970. • The Foreign Area Fellowship Progam, under the auspices of the American Council of Learned Societies and the Social Science Research Council, for a grant that allowed me more than two years of pre-doctoral research in the United Kingdom and in Nigeria,as well as follow-up work at Yale, 1971-73. • Dartmouth College, for a Faculty Research Fellowship in that facilitated my return to Nigeria in 1978-1979. • The American Council ofLearned Societies for additional support on my 1978-1979 trip to Nigeria. • Plymouth State College(now University)for two Faculty Research Stipends that took me to Urhobo in 1997 and 1998. • The Timothy Dwight College Master's Fund (Yale University)for a grant that helped me make a 1999 trip to Ughelli and southern Urhobo villages. • The Musee du Louvre,Paris for a travel stipend that allowed further study ofthe shrine for Owedjebo,in 1998. The Urhobo are, by and large,a closely-knit society,in which visitors, while cordially received,are rarely invited to participate in spiritual aspects ofthe culture. Early on,as I was learning much about Urhobo manners and rituals ofinteraction, William Eriaborosah Okorotete, born in Efru but with close family ties everywhere thoughtfully guided me. Time and again he sorted out the often challenging intricacies of protocol, especially as I was a thirty year-old attempting to assimilate with individuals much older,in a culture where hierarchy ofage is ofprime importance.In my visits in the 197os, he regularly facilitated my work, and by the 199os, had taken the title ofthe Osuivie, trusted messenger for the Ovie of Uvwie.In the midst ofa busy schedule in this capacity, he continued to travel with me and to help me sort out many ofthe subtleties ofUrhobo culture. William, or "Atibobo," continued as my mainstay. To ChiefOkorotete, I say, migwo(I kneel to you). My mother and father have been behind me ever since they were surprised,ifnot startled,to learn that I hoped to travel to Nigeria in the summer of1965. They came to Lagos and to Sapele in May 1967, when ChiefSalubi elaborately received them.In fact, he commissioned a small festival in their honor. My sister and brother, Nannette and Ned have always known when to help and,a rare skill, when to leave me alone. My wife Catherine has always offered help,through ups and downs,through moments ofdespair andjoy.She has been received grandly by Urhobo communities in this country and in London;she has read and thoughtfully commented on intermediate drafts ofthis book. I owe her a lot.
Note on orthography: The editor has attempted to write Urhobo terms in the form of the Agbarho dialect that is generally accepted as standard written Urhobo. Limitations of publication have not allowed the inclusion of diacritical marks. Inevitably there will be differences of opinion on particular spelling and usage. Although every effort has been made to achieve for standardization and clarity, the editor apologizes to any individuals who feel that another form should have been used.
Fig. 1 Boys dressed as sakpregidi, children of the fifth generation, on the occasion of the funeral of their great-great-grandmother. Oto-Edo, 1972. [See final chapter for commentary.]
Fresh Perspectives on Urhobo Culture
The West African forest belt, extending roughly from Liberia to the Congo along the mid-Atlantic coastline, has several unique features in the continent's social and cultural history. Whereas East Africans established contacts with Asians in ancient times,through seafaring ventures across the relatively calm waters ofthe Indian Ocean,West Africans faced the generally inhospitable Atlantic and their communities thrived independently ofthe outside world.They and their cultures were generally unknown outside their own region until only about five centuries ago.The native civilizations ofthe West African forest belt were touched neither by the wave ofearly Christianity that arrived in northern and northeastern Africa in the first seven centuries ofthe Christian era nor by the sweep ofIslam that caused the disappearance ofearly Christianity from much ofAfrica. Urhobo culture is one ofthese West African civilizations. The toughness ofthe forest area in which it developed was compounded by the stern topography ofthe Niger Delta. The Portuguese arrived in these creeks in the late 148o5,and were soon well aware ofthe robust existence ofthe Urhobo people. Urhobos and their culture, however, had no direct contact with the European traders, or with the fragments ofEuropean civilization that flowed from the Portuguese explorations ofthe western Niger Delta in the early 1500s. Urhobos did for several centuries supply the Europeans with agricultural produce, especially palm oil and palm kernels,but they traded through intermediaries,the peoples ofthe Atlantic coast. Full and direct contacts were not established until the last two decades ofthe nineteenth century.Beckoned by the mandate and impelled by the rivalries ofthe so-called "scramble for Africa" in the second halfofthe ragos, agents ofEuropean nations pushed beyond the frontiers ofthe West African forest communities,including those ofthe Urhobo,in a rush to colonize their territories. The European contact exposed a major difference in the cultures ofEurope and the West African forest-belt communities. Although these communities were sophisticated in the artistic representation oftheir civilizations,they were not literate.The introduction ofWestern European literary forms in the study ofAfrican cultures and their arts was a major occurrence ofthe nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It was initially carried out by Western European intellectual explorers and adventurers. Missionaries, colonial anthropologists,and linguists alljoined in the pioneering reduction ofWest Africa's rich cultures and arts to Western literary forms. Not all the cultures ofthe West African forest belt were immediately affected by these new intellectual ventures oftranslating their artistic achievements into literary forms for dissemination to international scholarship. Two parts ofSouthern Nigeria were intensely studied: the vast terrain ofYoruba culture was an early beneficiary ofthe work of missionaries, who studied Yoruba languages and cultures remarkably well,dating back to the late nineteenth century;and the Igho culture ofn southeastern Nigeria was the focus ofseveral anthropological and cultural studies. The neighboring communities of the Cross-River were included in these studies.To some extent,ancient Benin city-state civilization and its complex artforms were also explored by Western scholars. The communities ofthe Niger Delta were largely overlooked in this venture ofstudying West African cultures and their arts. Such was certainly the case with the Ijo and the Urhobo, the two largest cultural complexes in the Niger Delta. The Ijo are the dominant culture in the swampy coastal portion ofthe Niger Delta. The Urhobo ofthe western Niger Delta are the largest and most complex ofthe cultures and societies that inhabit the low-lying, often waterlogged regions of the upper Delta. Neither Ijo nor Urhobo culture was the subject ofany great study in the nineteenth century or the early decades ofthe twentieth,in sharp contrast to other cultures ofcomparable complexity and scope in Southern Nigeria. This neglect was probably due to the difficult environment ofthe Niger Delta. Covered by mangrove swamps in the seaward areas ofthe region and by low-lying wooded lands elsewhere, the Niger Delta also had an uncomfortably high annual rainfall that made living conditions rough for European missionaries and scholars. Living circumstances were certainly more tolerable for Europeans in the higher elevations in the rest ofSouthern Nigeria.
The consequence was that until 1960,the year ofNigeria's freedom from colonial rule, little ofUrhobo culture was known in the international community.J. W.Hubbard,an English missionary based in neighboring Isoko, made perfunctory efforts in the 1930s to guess at the extent ofUrhobo history and culture, but his work turned out to be largely misleading and probably ofmuch lower standard and intensity than studies ofother cultures ofsouthem Nigeria. R. E.Bradbury(1957)did include Urhobo(along with Ishan,Akoko-Edo,Isoko,and Itsekiri)in his political anthropology ofthe Benin Kingdom,but Bradbury's notes were peripheral to any mature understanding ofUrhobo history and culture. Nor did these British scholars map the outlines ofUrhobo artistic formations. Given this neglect ofthe communities ofthe Niger Delta,the study oftheir cultures was late to develop,and when it did, the intellectual engagement was different in kind from earlier work The pioneers ofIgbo and Yoruba culture studies had been foreigners who engaged Igbo and Yoruba communities as outsiders, usually as missionaries and colonial anthropologists. By contrast,the pioneers ofIjo and Urhobo studies had empathies with these communities that allowed an examination oftheir cultures from the inside outward. First, Western-educated native scholars, who knew the cultures of these communities from childhood, began to study their own peoples in the 1950s and '6os. Among the Ijo, the two leading names in this group are the literary icon J. P. Bekederemo-Clark and the historian E. J. Alagoa. Among the Urhobo,a large number ofsuch scholars, many ofthem fluent native speakers ofthe Urhobo language, came to the study of Urhobo culture from several angles. They include the worldfamed painter and printmaker Bruce Onobrakpeya; the historian Obaro Ikime(from the neighboring and culturally related Isoko); the anthropologist Onigu Otite;and two scholars ofUrhobo traditional religions, Michael Nabofa and Samuel Erivwo. There is also a group ofliterary artists who have used Urhobo themes in their poems, novels, and other writings: Isidore Okpewho,Ben Okri,Tanure Ojaide,and G.G.Darah.All ofthese scholars deserve to be called pioneers in their encounters with Ijo and Urhobo cultures. That two ofthem-Onobrakpeya and Okri-have international reputations in their fields owes something,I believe, to their expression ofUrhobo culture in their artistic productions. There is also a second group ofscholars who have pioneered in the study ofthe two main cultures ofthe Niger Delta.These are Westerners who have adopted Ijo and Urhobo cultures as their own and have been adopted by them in turn.These scholars speak local languages and empathize with local cultures to degrees beyond the experience ofearlier Westerners.They have achieved far more than their relatively small numbers would suggest.Among the Ijo,two such scholars stand out.The anthropologist and philosopher Robin Horton has not only made the Kalabari Ijo his cultural home,he has pioneered in the study ofits religious beliefs in ways that have made Ijo culture a fount ofhuman knowledge. Kay Williamson likewise has made her adopted Ijo culture a home oflinguistic scholarship. The editor ofthis volume is the Urhobo counterpart ofHorton and Williamson. A native New Englander, Perkins Foss entered the Peace Corps during the Kennedy presidency and arrived in Urhoboland in 1966.Since then he has consistently and steadily become a vital part ofUrhobo culture and scholarship. He speaks the Urhobo language with an intonation and diction attained by few nonnative speakers. He has made friends among people in all segments ofUrhobo society. Above all, he has become a formidable scholar ofUrhobo art forms.In one sense Foss stepped into a vacuum:a land and a cultural complex in which no Westerner before him could be called an expert. But he has come to study Urhobo culture as an insider, often teaming up with native students. He has become the chiefcustodian ofUrhobo art forms. In every sense ofthe word,in fact, he is a pioneer ofUrhobo culture studies,having gained early distinction in identifying the unique attributes ofUrhobo water spirits. Foss has been well rewarded for his insider style ofscholarship and his adoption ofUrhobo culture. Perhaps the greatest, if intangible reward that has been bestowed on him is the trust of the Urhobo people. Popularly known by the moniker Oyiboredjo(meaning"a white man with spiritual powers"), Foss has a chieftaincy title in his adopted Urhobo hometown of Evwreni. He has been privileged with ritual information and secrets that few chiefly Urhobos possess. Ultimately,the strength and distinction ofWhere Gods and Mortals Meet: Continuiry and Renewal in Urhobo Art are most likely to flow from the qualifications and authentic commitments ofthe contributors to this fine volume. In assembling the cream ofUrhobo culture artists to work with him on this important book ofessays exploring various aspects ofUrhobo arts and culture,Foss has advanced the frontiers ofAfrican culture studies. This is so because Urhobo culture has a number offeatures-many ofthem well addressed in the chapters ofthis book-that add significantly to the understanding ofAfrican arts and culture.Because ofthe placementofthe Urhobo people in the Niger Delta and in the forest belt ofWest Africa,their expansive cultural forms embody certain aspects ofAfrica's wider culture in exaggerated abundance We must now ask of Where Gods and Mortals Meet how much its authors contribute to an understanding ofthe Urhobo 12
world view? Any close reading will lead one to thejudgment that they do.The analytical and historical frameworks supplied by Foss add much to our understanding of Urhobo culture. Beyond those introductory and survey chapters, coo, Foss has added new dimensions to the study ofUrhobo art forms through his intense descriptions ofvarious types ofUrhobo statuaries,those ofiphri(for the control ofanger)being the most remarkable. Even more outstanding is the compilation ofa glossary ofUrhobo terms.This is an invaluable gift to Urhobo scholarship,and a testimony to Foss's many years ofdedicated research and study. The two short essays by Onobrakpeya convey the intensity of personal Urhobo art forms and the degree to which the Urhobo world view impresses itselfon its culture-bearers. Onobrakpeya's dense description ofAgbogidi,a personal shrine in the Idjerhe subculture ofUrhobo,is the recording ofa sharp and experienced artistic mind.It portrays Urhobo shrines,constructed for edjo deities, as complex artworks. Furthermore,Onobrakpeya's sensuous essay on color symbolism will be quickly recognized by any Urhobo culture-bearer as a record ofUrhobo intellectual sensibilities that deserves to be preserved. Not unnoticed in this nuanced reflection on the uses and formations ofcolors among the Urhobo is their restricted and concentrated repertoire ofcolors, which they limit to white(which,contrary to English usage,they consider a color), red,and black. All other colors in international usage(green, purple,gray, violet,orange,gold,etc.)are assimilated to one or the other ofthese three primary colors. In another chapter ofWhere Gods and Mortals Meet,G.G.Darah recalls the experiences ofhis childhood. Darah's documentation ofhis hometown's public gods will remind students ofUrhobo village societies,especially those ofthe past,ofthe large presence ofpublic gods in Urhobo culture-at least before the twenty-first century, that is, before the advent ofPentecostal Christianity, which has brashly challenged many ofthe shrines but perhaps not the beliefsystems ofUrhobo communities. These subjects have probably bred in Urhobo culture-bearers a strong dose ofintellectualism that cannot be dissociated from Urhobo cultural belieft and practices. In present-day Nigeria, Urhobos are known to have produced more than their fair share ofintellectuals in the arts, literature, and indeed music-as exemplified by, but by no means limited to, the huge presences ofOnobrakpeya as a painter and printmaker and ofOkri as an author. Is it a stretch to trace the Urhobo intellectual achievement to the traditional art forms documented by the authors ofWhere Gods and Mortals Meet? For evidence ofsuch possibility, the essays ofMichael Nabofa on arts and religion,Tanure Ojaide on the role ofartistic constructions in the daily lives ofUrhobos,and Darah on udje and other Urhobo performance traditions should be read for clues ofinherent intellectualism. While it is important that our authors should examine the internal intellectual needs oflocal and domestic constituencies in their scholarship,the greater value ofUrhobo culture may well be in the matter ofhow much its employment has contributed, and will contribute,to international scholarship. John Picton has played the valuable role ofthe outsider and international scholar among the authors ofthis volume. His conclusions about Onobrakpeya's work can be more widely applied to the deployment ofUrhobo culture in international scholarship. Picton writes,"Modernities were always local and international, and Onobrakpeya's art has a proven capacity to assert Urhobo, Nigerian, and African social and aesthetic identities within an international art world." Much the same thing could be written about the use ofUrhobo characters and world view by Okri and Okpewho in their contributions to the literature ofthe world. The works ofpioneers are best when they make no attempt at final or definitive answers to the age-old problems raised by complex cultural practices. Foss and his colleagues do not claim to have accomplished such a feat. Where Gods and Mortals Meet is, however,is an outstanding achievement by a collection ofpioneers in Urhobo studies.They have laid a firm foundation for the fruitful investigation ofUrhobo art forms. It is up to another generation ofscholars to pick up the trail that they have mapped out,and to make it into a wider and more enduring road,a thoroughfare ofUrhobo culture studies. Meanwhile,all lovers and students ofUrhobo culture and its art forms must appreciate the wealth ofscholarship that Foss and his colleagues have provided us here. The effort to advance Urhobo culture studies still farther is a goal to which the Urhobo Historical Society is prepared to dedicate its scarce resources. We trust that Foss and his colleagues will support the labors ofthe Urhobo Historical Society in sensitizing a new generation ofUrhobo intellectuals,as well as scholars from the international scene,in the pursuit offurther excellence in Urhobo culture studies and in the expansion ofthe niche that Urhobo culture currently occupies in international scholarship. PETER P. EKEH,PH.D. Editor, Urhobo Historical Sociery www.waado.org State Universiry ofNew York at Buffalo
Where Gods and Mortals Meet CONTINUITY AND RENEWAL IN
Fig. 2 A clothseller in Otogar 1997.
Cat 1 Maternity figure Wood, pigment. H. 133 an. Collection Henricus & Nina Simonis,Dusseldorf
An Introduction to the Urhobo PERKINS FOSS
CREATIVITY, from personal images offering protection and advancement to communal shrine art, awesome in scale and presentation. It also examines newer forms that are the product ofa culture in transition. The most significant components ofUrhobo art fall into four categories: Personal imases. Urhobo men and women maintain personal shrines (orhan, plural erhan) to protect themselves from adversity and to bring health, wealth,and happiness to their lives. The most common physical grouping in these shrines includes a triad ofcarved artworks enforcing the concepts ofdestiny, wealth, and aggression: destiny (urhievbe) provides for the healthy lives of one's children (fig. 4, 12; cats.2, 3, 13), wealth (obo) brings financial prosperity (fig. 3), and aggression (iphri)evokes the control ofaggressive power(figs. 30,31,34-36,69;cats.4,35-37,38,39, 40,41,46,47 and frontispiece). Ofthese three forms, aggression is the most elaborately rendered. The concept involves qualities of leadership, including those of a persuasive public speaker, a leader,and a powerful hunter and warrior. Images offemale beaury. Urhobo artists commemorate women at various stages of their lives, making art for brides, mothers, and elders. Young Urhobo women,soon to move into their husbands' households, are feted with extensive rites of passage. These women, called opha, parade through their village, their bodies decorated with elaborately prepared dyes, usually made from red camwood mixed with palm-kernel oil(figs.9,44). As a permanent honor to the brides, carved wooden statues are made to represent them in all their finery (cats. 33, 58). Also, masks representing opha appear as "visitors" on other festive occasions such as water-spirit masquerades, large fimerals,even festivals for iphri(cats. 5, ti, 25,70). Statues representing nursing mothers(oniemo), usually included in communal shrines, allude to the generations that have descended from the founding families ofa community(fig.43;cats. 1,48,52).An image ofan elderly woman in the form ofboth masks and figures is known as "the mother ofus all"(inene-ode; figs. 63,64; Cat. 43). Shrine statuaryfor the spirits. Communally owned works ofshrine art carry multiple meanings for the Urhobo.These sculptures-often rendered on a huge scale in wood,clay,or cloth-are manifestations ofnature-spirit forces, the edjo (figs. 40,43; cats. 1, 15,44,45,50,51,52). Once, nearly every Urhobo community had one or more shrines that housed edjo images commemorating the spirits oftheir founding families. Urhobo beliefcharacterizes these figures in a seemingly contradictory way,as simultaneously fearsome and beautiful. Urhobo lore relates that when the Urhobo came together, six centuries ago, they constantly struggled with each other to own land.These figures represent the heroic founding families who,with the help ofthe magical powers ofthe edjo,strove to develop and maintain a new home. Water-spirit masquerades and related peiformance arts. The Urhobo have close ties to riverine life, and produce elaborate spectacles ofdance, music,and song in homage to the spirits ofthe waters (figs. 5, 16, 20, 46, 54, 60,64, 65). Families compete to offer aesthetically pleasing performances. Wearing masks made of wood, cloth, or vegetal fiber, performers dance in honor of the spirit forces of the particular body of water that runs through their community. Water spirits are believed to reside in the water and to be helpful to the well-being ofa community. At festival THIS STUDY CONSIDERS THE FULL RANGE OF URHOBO
Fig. 3 lkomoni Oyibo holding his obo ("hand" image). Arhavwarien 1971.
Fig. 4 A group of figures of personal shrine art, displayed in Eghwu, 1971.
Cat. 4 Statue for male aggression (iphri) Wood, pigment. H.33 cm. Private Collection
Cats. 2, 3 Female/male figures Wood, pigment. H.31.5 and 35.5 cm. Private Collections
Cat. 5 Mask Wood, pisment,fiber cord. H.43.2 cm. Amyas Nacgcic
Fig. 5 Dancers announcing the opening of the festival for the water spirit Ohworhu. Agadama 1971.
•Ovu Inland AGBON
Aghalokpe • OKPE
Agbarha Otor • AGBARHO
•Orho Agbarho •Oghrerhe •Orhokpokpo
• Oto Edo
Otughienvwe UGHELLI • war° Otokutu N • Owahwa Eghwu Otogor • • • OGOR Esaba OLOMU Edjlota • Okwagbe •
IJO (IJAW) NIGERIA
F URHOBO KILOMETERS
Shows approximate locations of places mentioned in the text with: NEIGHBORING ETHNIC GROUPS, MAJOR TOWNS(o) URHOBO GROUPS Place Names(0) Major Rivers (s....) major roads (ft.)
times they are invited into town,and are seen as potentially dangerous-as powerful guests who must be treated respectfully. The Setting The Urhobo, who number about 1.5 million,occupy the western fringe ofthe Niger River Delta,in southern Nigeria, where a green rain-forest belt descending from Benin City meets the alluvial plains ofthe delta proper. Urhobo encompasses some 5,000 square kilometers,lying between longitudes 5째40 E. and 6째 25 E. and latitudes 50 15 N.and 6째N.,in Delta State, Nigeria (see map): The perimeters of Urhoboland are defined by rivers (fig. 6). At its northern edge is the Ethiope,a name whose Greek derivation recalls the Urhobo contact with European explorers and merchants for over 5oo years. Here lies the port city ofSapele, which for the period 1850-1950 was a dominant conduit for lumber and palm produce on its way to Europe. Before the rise ofWarri, in the later twentieth century, it was the most active part ofthe western delta. Most ofthe area to the north of the Ethiope is occupied by the southernmost groups ofthe kingdom ofBenin, people whose royal lineage extends back to at least the eleventh century. The Forcados River, the main western branch ofthe delta, separates the Urhobo from their southern neighbors. There are met the Mein, Tarakiri, and Kabowei groups ofthe western Ijo: East ofthe Urhobo live their most closely related neighbors,the Isoko, and farther to the east are the Ukuane4 or so-called Western Igbo, whose lands abut the Ase River and the main body ofthe Niger. Urhoboland is traversed by a multitude of creeks and rivers that flow southward into the Forcados, the most important ofthese being the Warni and the Kiagbodo.Since the development of motorable roads after the 193os, and most especially since the 198os, the use ofsmaller creeks and rivers has declined. As a result, many small creeks have silted up, and as a fiirther result, waterside communities have lost the dominant position in Urhobo life that that they once had. The historian Obaro Ikime divides the Urhobo area into two distinct areas:"The southern zone, which consists mainly ofthe territories ofthe Ewu[Eghwu],Evwreni and Uhwerun clans, is flooded during the wet season when the Ewu River overflows its banks both as a result ofrains and the Niger floods which flow into it through the Forcados River and surrounding creeks. The northern zone, consisting of the majority of the Urhobo-speaking clans, is on comparatively high land and does not suffer from severe flooding."' Fig. 6 Chief William E. Okorotete on the banks of the Warn River, 2001.
Early References to the Urhobo The first written reference to the Urhobo was made by the Portuguese explorer Duarte Pacheco Pereira, in around 1508: Five leasues beyond Rio dos Escravos is another river called Rio dos Forcados.... Five leasues up the left branch is a place ofbarter, which consists chiefly of slaves and cotton cloths, with some blue shells with red stripes which they call "con-is." These and other thin8s we buy there for brass and copper bracelets; they are all valuable at the castle ofS.Jorze da Mina, where the king'sfactor sells them to the nesro merchantsforsold. The inhabitants alon8 this river are called Huela. Farther in the interior is another country called Subou, which is densely populated; here there is afair amount ofpepper.... Beyond these dwell
other nesroes called jos, who own a large country; they are warlike people and cannibals.' Pacheco's "Subou" were the Urhobo; neighboring peoples still often refer to the Urhobo as "Sobo." This corruption, today considered offensive, was in common published usage until the 19505. Pacheco's "place ofbarter" was most likely Old Warn (Ode-Itsekiri), the economic center ofthe Itsekiri. The "Jos" were the Ijo, who live to the south ofthe Urhobo. The next published notice on the Urhobo came after a hiatus ofover three centuries,in April 184o, when Captain James Beecroft, while unsuccessfully attempting to enter the Niger via the Ethiope, reported that "Sooba Country is the name given to this district by the natives lower down the river, who represent it as forming part ofthe Kingdom ofBenin,The following year, 1841,J. F.Scholl and S.Crowther traveled up the Nun branch ofthe Niger and passed by a village named"Sobo ICriya"; in all likelihood they were referring here to one ofthe many fishing camps that the Urhobo have maintained in Western Ijo territory.' Finally, in 1863,Sir Richard Burton provided the first fully correct location of Urhoboland:"I rather believe that the word [Sobo] applies to the greatest part ofthe country between Abo on the Niger, the Wan River, and the southern branch ofthe Benin[Ethiopek which bounds it on the north,not on the south.At Wani we were within one day's row ofthe Sobo people." Thus the very location ofUrhoboland was not determined by Europeans until the third quarter ofthe nineteenth century,and even then no European penetration ofthe territory had occurred.For the rest ofthe century Urhoboland remained isolated from the European presence, which,however, was exerting significant influence along the coast ofwhat was to become southern Nigeria." Missionary interest in Urhoboland also began at this time.The one strongly established post, that of the Church Missionary Society, directed its energies primarily toward the Isoko. The Reverends James Welch and John Waddington Hubbard published extensive studies ofIsoko culture; whatfew references they make to the Urhobo are largely secondary in nature and scope."
Fig. 7 Chief William E. Okorotete, the Uvwie 2000.
Most Urhobo live in small villages, which vary in size from less than ioo to some 3,000 inhabitants and mostly have populations ofless than 500. These largely rural folk show little or no inclination toward large urban organization.The three commercial and governmental centersSapele, Warn, and Ughelli-have grown rapidly in the last quarter-century, but most of the Urhobo in these cities have equally strong ifnot stronger allegiances to their rural birthplaces. The Urhobo classify themselves into eighteen, largely autonomous village groups, each of which has a common ancestor." Each group contains numerous villages that in turn are divided into quarters and extended families. Urhobo Origins
"We camefrom Benin"(aware ihwo Aka).This commonly heard statement,when treated to detailed enquiry,usually reveals that although the Urhobo claim political allegiance to Benin,their origins are more complex,and those ofmany village groups point not so much to the north as to the east and south-to the Igbo and the Ijo."A theme common to most Urhobo stories ofmigration and settlement is one ofstruggle,disagreement,and dispute.Ikime notes that"a man and his immediate kith and kin might decide to found a new settlement in a search for greater farming and other opportunities,or as a result ofsome quarreL"Such tales ofunrest-and struggle to gain and hold land-seem to concur with the militaristic demeanor ofmuch Urhobo imagery. Very little can be said regarding the dates ofsettlement ofthe various Urhobo village groups. Pacheco's 1508 citation ofthe"Subou"suggests that at least parts ofthe country may have been occupied at this early date. Hubbard hypothesizes that the earliest migrations took place in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries."J. U.Egharevba provides a late-fourteenth-century date for
Cat.6 Mask Wood,pigment. H.76.2cm. Private Collection
Fig. 8 The Ovie of Orughworun 1972.
Trumpet Ivory. L 68 on. Private Collection,The Netherlands
a migration from Benin into what is now Urhobo country, during the reign ofOba Egbeka; he states that Egbeka "had several civil wars with the Uzania Nihinron [king-makers)" and suggests that these probably spurred the southward migration ofdisgruntled factions.'Present-day memories of Benin connections ("We came from Benin") may well stem not so much from actual genealogical inheritance as from the political pressures brought to bear in generations following the actual migration.Ikime states,"That Benin exerted some influence over the Urhobo,and that the contact with Benin was, in certain respects, maintained,is not denied. The main reason why the Benin connection was maintained was because Benin was regarded as a repository ofpower. The Oba ofBenin was a powerful ruler who was regarded with deep veneration as a near-deity."'7 Language
The Urhobo speak a language related to that ofthe Kingdom ofBenin. Although it is termed an Edo language, it varies sufficiently from that of Benin so that it cannot be considered simply a dialect thereof's The numerous dialects ofUrhobo-one authority has suggested six separate variants-reflect many regional differences." Furthermore,they reflect the diverse historical origins of the Urhobo.In recent years,the Agbarho dialect has emerged as the standard form ofUrhobo.
Cat. 7 "Udju Mara (Family Going to Farm)," 1972, by Bruce Onobrakpeya, Nigerian, b. 1932 Plastograph print, water colors. Courtesy ofthe artist
Social and Political Organization
Nearly each ofthe eighteen village groups recognizes a common leader in the person ofan Ovie (plural Ivie),a priest-king whose responsibilities were expanded by the British in the 1930s as part ofcolonial attempts to identify executive leadership for purposes of"Indirect Rule" throughout the western delta(fig.8)."In earlier times the Ovie was the senior priest(orele-ode)responsible for serving and maintaining the shrine ofthe common ancestors(esemo)ofthe village group.In the last seventy years, however, his prestige and authority have grown as he has assumed a more active role in modern political life. Aside from the Ovie,a number ofsocial institutions dominate Urhobo society.The title association known as the Ohonvwonren or Ade is regarded as"the custodian ofclan [sic] law and custom."" Its members,in the company ofother dignitaries such as the warrior leader(onotu-ode) and the eldest members ofthe community(ekpako),constitute the councils that govern at all levels,from extended family,to village, to the entire village group. Economy
While the Urhobo both farm and fish on the subsistence level, one particular skill stands out among others: harvesting the oil palm. At least as long ago as the nineteenth century, Urhobo have traveled to distant parts ofNigeria to plant,tend,and harvest palm kernels, palm nuts,and especially palm oil." First and foremost,the Urhobo are subsistence farmers.They occasionally produce sufficient surplus to allow for cash crops, but this is more the exception than the rule. The major crops are yams,cocoyams, cassava, plantain, peppers, and assorted legumes. Most cultivation is done by women;men assist in the more physically burdensome tasks ofclearing the land and harvesting. Until the 19705, male employment centered on oil-palm produce and the cultivation ofrubber trees and yam tubers. In the southern areas men work at both fishing and the distillation of palm wine into a potent alcoholic beverage known as udi,or "illicit gin," a term that stems from colonial prohibitions against its manufacture and distribution. In days past, men hunted antelope,elephant,and even leopard.Since the 19705 the petroleum industry has broughtincreasing levels ofcash-based employment into Urhoboland; a parallel development has been a considerable migration away from villages to the urban areas ofWarri and Ughelli The oil boom,however,has not brought stability and prosperity to the western delta-quite the opposite. Hopes ofprosperity have been frustrated by high levels ofcorruption: most ofthe money from the oil business has gone into non-Urhobo hands,to a series ofcentral governments that has diverted it elsewhere than into the development ofa better infrastructure ofroads,schools, hospitals, and agricultural centers. Meanwhile,the oil wells have polluted the waterways and farmland ofmuch ofUrhobo territory(fig. ro).By the end ofthe twentieth century,fishing,water supply,and roads were not nearly as well developed as they had been thirty years earlier. Within the Urhobo economy,men and women have largely separate opportunities for aesthetic expression. Certain villages have developed as specialized centers for women's crafts: Ow Edo,in Ughievwen, is renowned for its clay pots, bowls, and plates, which command premium prices in markets throughout Urhoboland.Similarly,women artists in the Ughievwen town ofOtokutu and the Udu town ofOrughworun make a wide variety ofraffia mats, ranging from plain examples, used as awnings for market stalls,to elaborate multicolored and patterned creations to decorate the rooms ofrecently betrothed women(fig.9).3 In addition,Urhobo women dress their hair in elaborate,often symbolically significant patterns-a form ofartistic expression throughout Africa. Wood sculpture is an exclusively male pursuit. Today it rarely forms the basis offull-time employment;during the period ofstudy(1966-zooz), no frill-time sculptor was ever encountered, although manysuch artists from pastgenerations were recalled by name and reputation.Today,the 26
Fig. 9 Bride (opha) performing the rite of "sitting" (kidia) in the house of her parents, as she receives friends and family on the last day before she moves to her husband's house. Oto Edo 1972.
Fig. 10 Sign posted by Shell Petroleum Development Corporation. Edjekota 1999.
4111. WARNING !!!
HUI PRESSURE OIL PIPE LINE DO NOT TRESPASS IN CASE OF RENEW Cid
Urhobo artist is likely to pursue a variety of occupations that call for hand skills: carpentry, masonry,or the repair ofbicycles, watches,or automobiles(figs. 56(a-d))." Religion
Central to Urhobo religious thought are the edjo," singular and collective spiritual forces believed to exist in natural phenomena—bodies of water, certain trees and plants, certain pieces ofland, even the air itself(fig. 41)." These spirits are pervasive forces whose powers encompass nearly all aspects of Urhobo life. Certain generic categories are recognized: edjo of water (edjorame),ofland(edjoto),ofthe atmosphere(edjenu). Nearly every Urhobo community has edjokpa,or oil-palm spirits." Conceptualizations of the edjo usually operate on more locally defined and specific levels. Each community has its own particular edjo, which is usually defined in specific terms. A body ofwater near a town may be the realm ofone such spirit; another may be a specific tree in or near the settlement. Other edjo find their inspiration in more arcane sources; especially prevalent in this category are the supernatural powers said to have been brought to a community by its founding members. A variety ofedjo coexist in any one community. While there is no theoretical limit to the number ofedjo within a given community,it is widely believed that at any one time a large community(for the Urhobo this would mean a town ofperhaps two thousand) would pay allegiance to four or five distinct spirits,and a small town(ofperhaps five hundred)would have one or two.
3. 4. 5.
On Urhobo geography see A. Aweto, Outline of Geography of Urhoboland (www.waado.org/Geography/Urhobo Geography-Aweto-html: Urhobo Historical Society, 2002). Sometimes called the ljaw or the Izon. See R. Horton, Kalabari Sculpture ([Lagos]: Department of Antiquities, Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1965); E. J. Alagoa, F. N. Anozie, et al., The Early History of the Niger Delta (Hamburg: Buske, 1988); and R E. Leis, Enculturation and Cultural Exchange in an ljaw Community (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1972). See J. W. Welch, "Isoko Clans of the Niger Delta," Ph.D. dissertation, Cambridge University, 1937, and P. M. Peek, An Ethnohistorical Study of !sok° Religious Traditions," Ph. D. thesis, Indiana University,1976. See C. D. Forde and G. I. Jones, The lbo and Ibibio-speaking Peoples of South-Eastern Nigeria (London and New York: Oxford University Press, published for the International African Institute, 1950). 0. lkime, Niger Delta Rivalry: Itsekiri-Urhobo Relations and the European Presence 1884-1936 (New York:
Humanities Press, 1969), p. 2. See note 12 below for discussion of the term "clan" and alternatives thereof. Further details of Urhobo geography appear in J. W. Hubbard, The Sobo of the Niger Delta: A Work Dealing with the History and Languages of the People Inhabiting the Sobo (Urhobo) Division, Warni Province, Southern Nigeria, and the Geography of Their Land (Zaria: Gaskiya Corp, 1948), pp. 57-65. 6. Duarte Pacheco Pereira, Esmeraldo de situ orbis, ed. and trans. G. H. T. Kimble (London: Hakluyt Society, 1937), pp. 128-29. 7. C. J. Beecroft, On the Benin and the Upper Course of the Ouorra, or Niger," Journal of the Royal Geographical Society 11 (1840):185. The reference to an association with the Kingdom of Benin is significant; there are close artis8.
14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19.
tic connections between the two groups. J. F. Sell& and S. Crowther, Journals of the Rev. James Frederick Soho() and Mr. Samuel Crowther: who, with the Sanction of Her Majesty's Government, Accompanied the Expedition up the Niger in 1841 on behalf of the Church Missionary Society, 1841 (reprint ed. London: Cass, 1970), p. 41. It was at such camps as this that Urhobo fishermen first experienced the Ijo masquerades that they introduced into Urhobo country as Ohworhu festival performances (see Chapter entitled "Ohworbu: a spectacle for the Spirits", below). S. R. Burton, "My Wanderings in West Africa: A Visit to the Renowned Cities of Warn and Benin, by an F.R.G.S," Fraser's Magazine 67 (1863):145. The coastal ltsekiri isolated the Urhobo in order to maintain their entrepreneurial role as middlemen in the European palm-oil trade. It was not until the late 1920s that the colonial powers expressed serious interest in the area. During these years a network of motorable roads was built, and young colonial officers began to make brief excursions, lasting perhaps four or five days, during which they wrote intelligence and assessment reports that provided the first substantive written record of Urhobo society. Colonial governmental interest was largely political and economic, and the documentation of cultural matters remained superficial at best, distorted and factually incorrect at worst. A full listing of these reports is provided in J. A. Ombu, Niger Delta Studies, 1627-1967: A Bibliography ((lbadan): at the University Press, 1970), pp. 112-16. See Hubbard, The Sobo of the Niger Delta, and Welch, "Isoko Clans of the Niger Delta." Previous studies have used a variety of terms for village groups. Hubbard and Welch, following the lead of colonial reports, use "clan." R. E. Bradbury, in The Benin Kingdom and the Edo-Speaking Peoples of South-Western Nigeria: The Benin Kingdom; the Ishan; the Northern Edo; the Urhobo and Isoko of the Niger Delta (London: International African Institute, 1957), p. 127, uses "tribe"; lkime, in Niger Delta Rivalry and elsewhere, uses "clan," and 0. Otite, in The Urhobo People (lbadan: Heinemann Education Books [Nigeria], Ltd., 1982), uses "polity." The Urhobo themselves use ekru otor, literally, "lineage of the earth." In the current study, "village group" will be used, because it more clearly defines the unit's type. lkime makes careful note of this phenomenon:"Most of the Urhobo people trace their origin back to Benin. The clans which constitute the Urhobo and Isoko Divisions in fact fall into three migratory groups. There are those which trace their migration to their present location directly from Benin; others say that they moved to their present site from what is now ljoland; and a third group, the latest arrivals, claim lbo origin. However, some of the clans in the last two categories have vague memories of an even earlier migration from Benin to Ijo or lboland. Hence the general statement that most of the Urhobo clans claim Benin origin." Niger Delta Rivalry, p. 6. Ibid., p. 15. Hubbard, The Sobo of the Niger Delta, p. 152. J. U. Egharevba, A Short History of Benin (lbadan: at the University Press, 1968), p. 13, and lkime, Niger Delta Rivalry, p. 12. lkime, Niger Delta Rivalry, p. 13. See W. Welmers, "Structural Notes on Urhobo," Journal of West African Languages 6 (1969): 85-107, and W.0. Ofobrukueta, An Introductory Urhobo-English Dictionary (Ore: St. Mark's Anglican Church, 1999). In a conversation on November 12,1971, Mr. Theophilus Aganjivwie Abido of Ukpokiti, in Agbarha-a local scholar with considerable skill in differentiating Urhobo dialects-suggested the following linguistic divisions: Avwraka, Agbon, Agbarho, Uvwie, Ughelli and Evwreni. For a comprehensive study of Indirect Rule see A. E. Afigbo, The Warrant Chiefs: Indirect Rule in Southeastern
Nigeria, 1891-1929 (London: Longman, 1972). 21. lkime, Niger Delta Rivalry, p. 20. 22. See Otite, Autonomy and Dependence: The Urhobo Kingdom of Okpe in Modern Nigeria (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973), and Jones, lbo Art (Aylesbury: Shire, 1989). 23. See S. M. Foss,"Urhobo Mats in Praise of Daughters," African Arts 12, no. 1 (November 1978), and "She Who Sits as King: Celebrations for Young Urhobo Women," African Arts 12, no. 2(1979). 24. The case of one exceptional artist, Samson Ohirian of Ukpe-Olomu, is noteworthy. Ohirian was a carver of iphri, but also worked as a mason and carpenter. He was in steady demand in these trades, to the point where he maintained six apprentices under his control, and in late 1971 he was enjoying the profits of a large contract to supply fifty desks and chairs to a local primary school. He was also skilled in repairing watches, clocks, bicycles, and sewing machines, and he maintained the communally owned gasoline engine used for grinding cassava. Asked if he could repair an automobile, he confidently announced that given a week's apprenticeship with a good mechanic in Warn, he would attain the necessary skills. When visited in October 1972, he revealed his latest ambition. Saying "my real skill is in my hands," he announced that he hoped to abandon all other occupations, including carving, to direct his energy to a new task: delivering babies, especially those whose mothers were experiencing problematic final stages of labor. His reasons for this apparently radical shift in occupation were eminently pragmatic: midwifery was where the greatest profit lay. When visited in 1998, he was practicing it successfully. 25. The term "edjo" is commonly used as both singular and plural forms. 26. The edjo are fundamental to Urhobo religion. In discussing the neighboring Isoko, Welch refers to "a wooden edo (edjo) carved to represent a man for a male and a woman for a female." See "Isoko Clans of the Niger Delta," p. 143. Hubbard, discussing the Isoko religion, comments that "although the esemo (ancestors) have general control, yet
there are a number of beings called edjo who have only lived in En (world of the dead, an abbreviated form of erivwi) and never in Akpo (world of the living) except in so far as they have taken human form at odd times to suit themselves." The Sobo of the Niger Delta, pp. 276-77. In discussing the traditions of the Uzere village group (again in !sok째 country), Hubbard quotes a personal communication from one Israel Loho, a native of Uzere: "Eni [the founder of the Uzere clan] followed them from Benin; it may have been a family spirit edjo, not an ancestor." Ibid., p. 103. Bradbury reports that the term "appears to have the same connotation as the Benin word ebo and the pidgin [West African English] word 'juju,'" and that it often refers specifically to "wooden images." The Benin Kingdom, p. 160. 27. An Intelligence Report on Ukpe-Sobo provides documentation of this cult: "Fertility of the palm bush: palm bush is closed for three months and no collecting is done One palm tree, EJOKPA, which is always regarded as head of the palm bush, is worshipped and a dog is sacrificed to it.... A young man and woman are selected by the village and they become priest and priestess. They stain their bodies with camwood and wear cloths of red and white colour. The palm tree is decorated with red cloth. A dance, in which the actors wear masks of rams, fishes and crocodiles, is performed and the whole village gives itself up to rejoicing. The festival lasts for about three months and hospitality is offered to strangers on a generous scale during the period." R. B. Kerr, Assessment report on the Ukpe-Sobo, Ward Province. National Archives, lbadan, p. 26.
Cat. 9 Ancestor column Wood, pi8menr. H. 152.4 cm. Toby and Barry Hecht
Urhobo World View PETER EKEH
The Urhobo world view is based on polar-
ishments for violations of the moral wel-
ity: a pervasive and universal differentia-
fare of their living relatives by miscreants
tion of our known Earth (Akpo)from an unknown spirit world (Erivwin). The dis-
among them. But Erivwin is more than its posthuman inhabitants: it is a place from
tinction between Akpo and Erivwin, and
which unknown forces control our uni-
the complex relations between them, dom-
verse, a place of supreme mystery. Akpo,
inate Urhobo cultural consciousness.
on the other hand, the adult Urhobo
Living people inhabit Akpo and control its
affairs; Erivwin is peopled by the spirits of
Sandwiched between Akpo and
the dead. Those among the departed who
Erivwin are the edjo, intermediary spiritual
have been properly buried, and for whom
forces that interact with living humans.
prescribed rituals of passage have been
The world of the edjo is a kind of
performed by their living relatives, will live
stepped-down Erivwinâ€”a vast world
in peace therein. Until the dead achieve
inhabited by a large group of nature-spirit
such status, their spirits wander in
forces, some benign, others cruel and
strange places, awaiting admission into
dangerous. The most intimidating of these
their final resting places.
are associated with the two most signifi-
Does such a statement about Erivwin
cant ecological phenomena of the delta:
imply that it has many chambers? There is
forests and water. While water spirits
certainly something close to the Christian
(edjorame) have held a lot of fascination
Purgatory in the Urhobo conception of the
for scholars, forest spirits (edjo r' aghwa
afterworld. Passage into the final and
or edjoraghwa) are the menace of tradi-
prestigious abode of rest for the departed
tional Urhobo communities. Their friend-
is not free, nor is it entirely up to the indi-
ship must be achieved for the welfare of
vidual dead, or dependent on the way
the community. The more perilous forest
they lived their lives while in Akpo. It is
spirits include Aziza, who is also known
largely up to how well their living relatives
as Okrobo-gbo-owovo (A beast missing
will intervene in the rituals surrounding
one hand and one foot), who endangers
their death, and after their departure from
their living relatives' midst. Urhobo spend
Urhobo people do not attempt to con-
considerable resources on post mortem,
trol Erivwin but try constantly to control
so-called "second burial" ceremonies for
the edjoâ€”to neutralize their powers by
two important reasons. First, living rela-
employing spirit counter-forces. The
tives want to ensure that the spirits of
Urhobo do not feel powerless in relation
their departed kinsmen and women will be rescued from the torment of wandering
to the edjo; priests (eboh, singular oboh) of various grades act as agents in dealing
around in strange places among the living.
with this lower cadre of spirits. In tradi-
Second, they want to make certain that
tional Urhobo culture, these priests were
the spirits of their departed parents and
immensely important for the welfare of
other relatives will gain admission into the
individuals and of the community.
ultimate chambers of Erivwin, from where they will be more helpful to the living. Once in Erivwin and at peace, the
The Urhobo world view rests on another distinction that crosses, diametrically in a sense, the dichotomy between
spirits of the dead have a duty to protect
Akpo and Erivwin. That is the division
their living relatives from unnecessary
between private and public, which
harmâ€”although they are also known to
assumes extraordinary importance in
cause disease and even death, their pun-
Urhobo affairs because of the expanse of
toward the skyâ€”clearly indicating the location of God's abode. Oghene does not live among humans. Urhobo never associate Erivwin with the sky; in fact they are not specific about its site, but they do say that some of its inhabitants take human form and visit marketplaces, which suggests that it is never far from our own earthly abode of Akpo. Some may even place it beneath the earth, where the dead are buried. While Urhobo adore and revere Oghene, there are no functional relationships between Oghene and humans. Oghene is credited with creating us and endowing each of us with our own individual destiny. Beyond such initial relationships, Urhobo do not hold Oghene responsible for their fortunes or misfortunes. Nor do they feel obligated to Oghene. Sin in Urhobo culture, for instance, has nothing to do with Oghene: moral transgressions are matters of the relationships between humans and Erivwin, in which sanctions for sins committed by humans are imposed by controlling forces from Erivwin. While Urhobo credit their ancestors in Erivwin with their good fortune, they likewise do not hesitate to blame them for their adversities. The brilliance of the nineteenth-century religious movement called Igbe was that its founder, Ubiesha of Uhwokori, made the relationship between Oghene and devotees of Igbe functional (figs. 22, 35). In the theology, practices, and rituals of this monotheistic religion, the supreme god Oghene, rather than Erivwin, was directly responsible the private domain in their culture. Urhobo
serve as their own chief priests. At the
for the welfare or misfortunes of the Igbe
culture is distinguished by a bold individualism. The individual plays an assertive
same time, the public domain is ever
faithful. In turn, their moral transgressions
present in all spheres of Urhobo culture,
were offenses against Oghene, to whom
role here, contending with the public and
and this too crosses deep into the spirit
they confessed their sins and from whom
communal. The private-public distinction
worlds of Erivwin and edjo. Between the
they sought forgiveness. It was this unique
extends to Erivwin and the pantheon of
private and the public, then, various inter-
affiliation with Oghene, which sidelined
edjo spirits: individuals crave the benevolence that can flow from Erivwin through
mediate spheres of family deities and ancestral shrines parallel the social organ-
Erivwin, that distinguished Igbe from other Urhobo religious practices in a precolonial
the intervention of their ancestors. More
ization of Urhobo communities.
and pre-Christian era.
directly, the individual claims a sphere of
Set aside from Akpo and Erivwin, but well above both, is Oghene, the Urhobo
the spirit world through his personal guardian spirit (erhi). Adults, usually family
conception of God. In the Urhobo view of
heads, have their own personal cults (obor, or "hand"), in whose worship they
the cosmos, Oghene is supreme. When Urhobo refer to Oghene, they look up
Fig. 11 A priestess for the orhan of Aduri dances as she spreads scented white talc into the air. Edjekota 1971.
Urhobo Art in the Literature PERKINS FOSS
IRONICALLY, THE FIRST PUBLISHED PIECE ofUrhobo art was not collected in Urhoboland. In
1895, the German explorer Siegfried Passarge published a small Urhobo statue, now in the Ethnologisches Museum,Berlin, that he identified as made by the Jukun peoples ofthe Benue River Valley area,some 350 miles northeast ofUrhoboland (fig. iz). The attribution arose from the circumstances ofthe object's collection: Passarge indicates that it was purchased in 1879 by another German explorer, E. R. Flegel, at the Jukun town ofWukari.'The statue is undeniably Urhobo;indeed,it is a statue ofa very common kind,made in honor ofone's personal"destiny," or urhievbe, and often featured as a complementary image to one's "controller ofaggression" (iphri). It would not have been difficult for this object to arrive in Wukari: the Urhobo,skilled itinerant harvesters ofoil-palm produce,are well documented to have traveled over many parts ofsouthern Nigeria.' In 1896 the British Museum received a collection ofeleven masquerade headpieces that had been collected, probably in 1894, by a British officer stationed in Urhobo country.4 In 1898, Reginald Granville and Felix Roth wrote the first description ofUrhobo art: Juju-houses in the middle ofthe compounds have one side quite open and contain all sorts ofthings,such as clay and woodenfigures, brokengin bottles,cowries, beads, wooden plates, palm oil, kernels, bones and skulls ofmonkeys,dogs,cats and birds, plants, etc. These things are arranged on raised play-orms or steps; many of the articles hangfrom the walls, but everything is whitewashed. Ofthe manyjuju-houses seen, none contained anything which could be considered valuable....on the bush paths atthe entrance to a town there are generallyjuju-houses built like the dwellings with clay walls,some ofthejekri[Itsekiril and Sobo[Urhobo] juju-houses being very large....Figures arefourul in the Sobo,Ijo,and Bini houses, butnot in thejekri houses; thefigures are ofclay or wood, with the organs ofgeneration always excessively developed.5 The allusion is most probably to monumental,freestanding figurative images in honor of the spirits ofthe forest(edjo re akare,or edjorakare). These briefremarks contain at least two significant observations: the statues were sited in buildings with an open front wall,and clay was used to"whitewash" the interior walls, as well as the statuary within. Henry Ling Roth's extensive 1903 study ofBenin culture includes one brief but important reference to Urhobo art, where Roth compares an ivory figure from Benin to a "Sobo [Urhobo] Fetish," a masquerade headpiece ofa seemingly unique type:' A comparison ofthefeatures ofthis[Benin ivory]statuette with those ofthe neighboring Sobo woodenfetish ...shows striking differences in type and execution,and thereby offers afieldforspeculation as to the causes ofthe differences. One ofthe causes is notfar to seek. Until the destruction ofBenin the Sobos were subject to the city, and their counny was a happy hunting-groundfor the capture ofslavesfor human sacrifices, of which we have heard so much,and thus instead ofspreading the partially developed art culture ofwhich she was mistress,Benin used her power to destroy that little which her neighbours once possessed; hence the crude figures ofthefetish illustrated!
Mask Wood,pisment H.40an. International Carnival and Mask Museum,Binche, Belgium
Fig. 12 Male figure Wood. H. 64 cm. Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin
Roth introduces here an important problem in the study ofUrhobo art: namely, the nature and extent ofthe influence on the Urhobo oftheir politically more powerful northern neighbors, the kingdom ofBenin. His conclusions, however,are more than just simplistic, they are patently wrong. Urhobo artistic exchange with Benin is a complex issue and will be considered in some detail in this volume. The first decade ofthe twentieth century brought increased colonial attention to Benin and its surrounding areas. The colonial-government anthropologist Northcote W. Thomas carried out extensive surveys there during these years, although he spent only a small fraction of his time in Urhoboland. He included a brief reference to Urhobo sculpture in an essay of 191o: "Usually in the Sobo [Urhobo]country, the ebo [spiritual forces] are represented by images." In 1927,a Swiss scholar, Richard Karutz, published two pieces from the British Museum's Copland Crawford collection for the first time,in a wide-ranging consideration ofjaniform imagery from many parts ofthe world.'Although Karutz presented these pieces without comment,their inclusion led Eckart von Sydow to present, in 1930, the first serious notice ofUrhobo sculpture: This southernmost province of the Edo-speaking tribe merits separate consideration. The work ofthis area appears to have little connection with Benin art. On the other hand, it does seem to embody a stylistic relationship with the artistic production oftheir western neishbors, the yaw [Ijo](in the lower Niser Delta). The question ofwhich area influences the other must be left unresolved. Indeed, in every case here it appears that active artistic influence travels back andforth across this hinterland. However, the tribe can with some certainty be placed correctly near the sea. The stark imagery and the harsh outlines oftheform lie, in any case, within thegeneral zone ofthe Ijaw. Nevertheless the So bofig ures and masks are ofa mold common to the carvings ofancestorfis tires ofthe western Ijaw and the Kalabari, and are even ofhigher artistic merit. Thefigures and masks of the Sobo (London, British Museum) always present a slender profile, a smooth roundness and a touch ofnaturalism. The head is constantly worked according to this sensibility, and with particular precision. They are made readily recognizable by a moderately highforehead, whose verticality is accented byfive long vertical embellishments.The eyes, which are cut in slight reliefstraight across at the bottom, are moderately arched above; the oval ofthe open mouth protrudes beyond the nose and theforehead. The nose [is] broadly curved with smooth, nearlyflattened bridge, and is bare, without differentiation except for a connecting mark ofscarification in the middle."
Cat. 11 Mask Wood, pistnent. H.49 an. Jo De Buck
Fig. 13 A priest for an edjo, shown wearing cast bells as rings, Ukpe Olomu 1949 (Photograph by Kenneth Murray).
Von Sydow recognized the important relationship between Urhobo art and that of the Western Ijo. Since he had been, in this instance, working solely from museum objects, he stated the connection exclusively in formal terms;data included in the present study expand and refine the parameters of Urhobo-Ijo interaction, and historical as well as ethnographic investigations provide a more substantial consideration ofthe artistic exchanges between the Urhobo and their neighbors to the south. The 19305 brought the Church Missionary Society into the western Niger Delta. Although the society concentrated its effortsjust east ofthe area ofthis study,among the Isoko,it did make limited contact with the Urhobo. Two C.M.S. officers reported extensively on their experiences: in 1937,for Cambridge University,James W.Welch wrote a doctoral thesis titled"The Isoko Clans ofthe Niger Delta,"" and John Waddington Hubbard prepared the monograph "The Sobo ofthe Niger Delta" in the same decade,although it was not published until 1948." Most ofthe material included in these works deals with the Isoko rather than the Urhobo." The first serious field investigation of Urhobo art came in January 1949, when Kenneth Murray,the founder ofthe Nigerian Department ofAntiquities,conducted a briefbut extremely fruitful tour ofOgo, Ughienvwe,and Udu village groups. His notes and photographs-now in the files ofthe Nigerian Museum-provide an important record ofUrhobo art." Especially important in this regard is the photograph ofan iphri sculpture from Agbowiame,which stands as one ofthe major examples ofthe Ughienvwe style.'s
9. 10. 11.
Siegfried Passarge, Adamaua: Bericht fiber die Expedition des Deutschen Kamerun-Komitees in den Jahren 18934 (Berlin: Dietrich Reimer, 1895), p. 362, abs. 195. In July 1879, Edward Robert Flegel led an expedition up the rivers Niger and Benue to explore the possibilities for German trade along the Benue. On his return, in 1880, he deposited a large and well-documented collection from this area in Berlin's Museum fur Volkerkunde. The piece in question, No. III C 16062, was accessioned that year. See Flegel, "Der Benue von Gande bis Djen," Petermann's Mittheilungen 26 (1880): 220-28. See 0. Otite, ed., The Urhobo People (lbadan: Heinemann Education Books [Nigeria], Ltd., 1982), and R. E. Bradbury, The Benin Kingdom and the Edo-Speaking Peoples of South-Western Nigeria (London: International African Institute, 1957), p. 127. The latter notes the Urhobo are "scattered through the oil-palm belt of Western Nigeria and others are found as far afield as the Ndop Plain of Bamenda Province in the Cameroons." Thanks to Bruce Onobrakpeya for initially suggesting the possibility of this link. British Museum Accession Nos. 96.8-17.1-11. The Major Copland Crawford collection sheds valuable light on the artistic exchange between the Urhobo and their southern neighbors. Reginald K. Granville and Felix N. Roth,"Notes on the Jekris, Sobos, and !jos of the Warni District of the Niger Coast Protectorate," Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, n.s. 1, nos. 1 and 2 (August-November 1898): 110-11. According to John W. Picton, this piece "is registered in the British Museum as 1898.9-3.1 and the only record of its accession is on page 86 of a volume entitled Temporary Register which says:'Carved wooden head from Sobo country. Given by H. Ling Roth Esq.'" Personal communication, May 7, 1975. H. Ling Roth, Great Benin: Its Customs, Art, and Horrors (London: F. King and Sons, 1903), pp. 200-201 and fig. 217. Northcote W. Thomas, The Edo-Speaking Peoples of Nigeria," Journal of the African Society 10, no. 37 (October 1910): 12. Also in 1910, Thomas published a more extensive, two-volume study that includes many passing allusions to Urhobo culture but makes no reference to their arts. Richard Karutz, Das Ratsel des Janus: von Wirklichkeit in Kunst und Mythos (Basel: R. Geering, 1927), pp. 12-13. Eckert von Sydow, Handbuch der Afrikanischen Plastik, Tafel. 117; Handbuch der Westafrikanischen Ras% (Berlin: Dietrich Remer/Ernst Vohsen, 1930), pp. 186-87. The translation is by the present author. J. W. Welch, The Isoko Clans of the Niger Delta," Ph.D. dissertation, Cambridge University, 1937. Welch also contributed two other brief notices on the Isoko; "Witchcraft and Christianity in the Niger Delta," Church Overseas 4, no. 16 (October 1931): 318-33; and "The Isoko Tribe," Africa 7, no. 2(April 1934): 160-73. The Reverend John Waddington Hubbard, The Sobo of the Niger Delta (Zaria: Gaskiya Corporation, 1948). A synthesis of these two volumes appears in Bradbury, The Benin Kingdom, pp. 127-64. See also M. G. Anderson and P. M. Peek, Ways of the Rivers: Arts and Environment of the Niger Delta (Los Angeles: Fowler Museum of Cultural History, University of California, Los Angeles, 2002), for further comments on the works of Welch and Hubbard. Kenneth C. Murray,"Notes on the Urhobo, Isoko, Erohwa and related peoples, so-called Sobo" ms. no. 82, Nigerian Museum Archives, Logos, 1949, typescript, 14 pp. Murray also collected fifteen pieces of sculpture from these areas; they, too, are now in the Nigerian Museum, and although the quality of the majority does not represent the finest aspects of Urhobo productivity, a number of them do shed significant light on particular sub-styles.
Urhobo Art and Religious Belief MICHAEL Y. NABOFA
in which Urhobo religious beliefs and practices are maintained in visual imagery. In the Urhobo world view, the cosmos is composed oftwo, inseparable realms: the visible, tangible world of the living (Akpo) and the invisible realm of sacred, otherworldly forces-gods, divinities, spirits, and ancestors, collectively called Erivwinthat influence human affairs. The total well-being of the people in Akpo depends very much upon the goodwill ofthe forces in Erivwin. For the Urhobo, all manner ofentities can assume symbolic religious significance. Living things like plants and animals, sacred persons like priests and priestesses, natural objects like stones, molehills, anthills, valleys, river rapids,sun, moon,stars, wind, water, and fire, human properties like saliva and blood, man-made things like boats,and abstract things like numbers, the square,or the circle can be considered sacred religious objects.An Urhobo can transform any object or form into a religious symbol, both consciously and unconsciously, endowing it with religious importance and using it in both religion and visual art. Through artwork,dance,and drama, Urhobo artists express believers' inner religious experiences, and through ritualistic emblems they indoctrinate them in certain principles. He may use the young palm frond (omwen),for example, to isolate the sacred from the profane: when they curtain offa place, they indicate that it has been declared holy (figs. 14, 15, 41, 45); when they are spread in front of, behind, or to the sides ofan automobile or truck, they communicate the presence ofa corpse, which is believed to be a sacred entity. The Urhobo artist is the people's theologian, philosopher, historian, poet, psychologist,and metaphysician. He reshapes natural forms to express ideas about the universe. THIS CHAPTER WILL EXAMINE THE MANNER
Fig. 14 A visionary (orele), his wife and child. Oteri 1971.
Fig. 15 An orhan for the farm, with its owner. Edjekota 1971.
Cat. 12 Female figure Wood,pigment H. no cm. National Museum ofAfrican Art,Smithsonian Institution This statue represents a mature woman, one beyond childbearing age. She wears at her wrists ivory bracelets called ikoro (singular, ukoro) that indicate her high status.
Fig. 17 An elaborate orhan from Orho-Agbarho, 2001.
Concept of God
The Urhobo have just one principal name-Oghene-for the Supreme Being. In daily religious expressions, however,this name is usually qualified with other attributive and generic names, including Osonobruwhe,Ukpabe,Ovwanta Ovwanhare,Edobere, Uku,Ezeneoru,Agbadagbruru, and Omanomohwo.These names reinforce the notion that there is indeed an all-powerful, invisible, omnipotent,and omniscient power that can assuage all life-negating trauma. Also, to calm his anger,people address Oghene by the following sacred names and prayers: Oghene Osonobruwhe:God, who carries,sustains,and maintains the universe. Ezeneoru:The great invisible spirit above. Oghene Ukpabe:The pure and spotless one. Oghene Uku:God almighty,the mighty one above. Agbadagbru-ru:The thundering mighty one above. Omanomohwo biko:The creator ofall, please,or, we implore you. Emo wen he oto: Behold,your children are here below. In precolonial times the Urhobo were part ofa fragmented society ofsmaller communities. These communities were led by their elders, but virtually all oftheir inhabitants were regarded as equals-there were no servants and no masters. Individuals respected their parents and elders on grounds ofage.The spiritual world was believed to follow the same arrangement:as individuals ofequal status inhabited the physical world, they believed that individual spirits ofequal status occupied the spiritual one. At the same time, they believed that the Supreme Being Oghene governed and controlled both spheres ofexistence. At one time,it is believed,the only spiritual object that the Urhobo worshiped was Oghene. However, when expansionist drives and struggles over territorial boundaries (both within Urhoboland and in contiguous lands)led to conflicts,shrines were set up for war charms-preparations ofherbs and other elements.Charms were also prepared to enhance fertility in plants and animals.These shrines gradually became places ofregular worship. Fig. 16 Water-spirit performance in the form of a In the practice of magic and medicine, a community can infuse a sense oflife, power, and canoe carrying thirty paddlers and singers. Called consciousness into a natural or artificial object,such as a concoction ofherbs and other symbolUmalokun, the style originated among the neighboring Itsekiri people, and was introduced into ic elements, by means ofshared concentration, incantations, and ritual drama. As they imbue Urhobo in the 1940s. Ughelli 1966. such an object with divine powers and qualities, it may develop over time into a spiritual entity-a divinity, phantom, or apparition. In Urhobo culture,a shrine containing an altar of charms-herbal preparations impregnated with r psychic power through the invocations ofmysII \ tically advanced experts-is called an orhan(plu7 A 1) VI I X: ral erhan; figs. 15, 17, 26), and the divinity into which it may develop over time is an edjo. In some cases an ancestral cult can be transformed into a shrine of divinity, as in the case of the edjo ofIgboze,ofOlomu village group. Originally the only divinities acknowledged by the Urhobo were those whose origins and abodes could be traced to water: ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, and the Atlantic Ocean. Most prominent in this group of aquatic divinities (edjorame), recognized all over Urhoboland,are 38
Fig. 18 An ogriki tree, Ukpe Olomu, 1999.
Ohworhu(figs. 5,20,46,54,55,60,63-65),Olokun (fig. 16), Onidjo,and Mamiwata.There also are regionally acknowledged aquatic divinities: Urhapele, in Sapele; Adakaji and Ophuphe, in Abraka; Ogbaurhie,in Ughienvwe (fig. 41); Ugherighe and Ophio,in Uwheru; and Urhienu, in Ewhu(figs. 13,25)and Uwheru. The power and influence ofan edjo or orhan depend on the spiritual capabilities ofits chief priests and priestesses. As divinities, erhan are usually discarded when they are considered to have failed to meet the needs ofthe people; their shrines are sacked or neglected, and beliefin them expires. Traditionally every Urhobo community had only one shrine, the one dedicated to Oghene. This is a simple shrine, made ofa Newboldia tree(oshriki)planted in the center ofevery compound (fig. 18). Every morning and whenever the occasion demands, the male head ofthe household goes under the oghriki tree to offer his prayers directly to God,crushing a white chalk into powder in his hands and blowing it into the air onto the tree. While he does this every morning,but also late at night,the female head offers her own prayers,also with chalk,while standing in front ofher house. Efforts are made to ensure that the oghriki survives, but ifit does not,its death is taken as a sign from Oghene that the site is not a suitable place for the household to settle in.If it survives, however, it becomes the focal point through which the inhabitants of this social group address their prayers to God,with the most elderly adult always acting as the chiefpriest. The women also have their own form ofshrine,usually a small structure containing medicinal ingredients,piles ofcowries,often a destiny figure(urhievbe,cat. 13),and other herbal components in honor ofOto, the spirit ofthe earth. In any year in which the harvest is poor, this shrine is sacked, and some time must pass before it is rebuilt. The shrine erected in honor of Oghene,on the other hand, is never tampered withâ€”that would mean the disintegration ofthe society. Rituals in edjo shrines take the form ofnegotiations between two equals(fig.40,41,43).There are even times when the votary ofan edjo may scold it when it fails in its duties.Ifan unwanted edjo proves stubborn,specific rituals may be directed to Oghene in order to exorcise it. For the Urhobo,God's creation ofhumans is an ongoing process.He brings into being the soul,the vital life force called erhi, ofevery individual,and directs it into the prospective mother.Then,inside the womb,Oghene completes all other processes ofcreation before the individual finally comes to life. This is the Urhobo concept ofhuman conception. 40
Maternity figure Wood,pigment. H.35 CM. Josette H.Georgin
Edjoerivwin Apart from
water spirits, the Urhobo believe in the existence of wild nature spirits (edjoerivwin, spirits ofthe spirit world). Such spirits are mostly connected to sacred forests, night quiet, and awful situations to do with groves and evil forests(ashwarode) where the remains ofthose who died abnormally are disposed of Such spirits are usually associated with menace,disorder, ugliness, illness, and mental disharmony. Conversely, water spirits are generally conceived to be beautiful, benevolent, and wealthy beings. Although they are sometimes the cause of misfortune, this only happens when the individual violates their injunctions. Urhobo concepts ofbeauty and ugliness provide insight into the nature ofedjoerivwin and edjorame. A beautiful or handsome person is said to be "as beautiful as edjorame" while an ugly person is "as ugly as edjoerivwin." A wicked person, especially a sadist, is referred to as edjoerivwin. He is also called by the praise name Ukumuemu,a perpetrator ofevil. Whether of water or forest, spirits are ambivalent in nature. They can possess or catch a person for either good or for bad. On the beneficial side,spirits reveal herbs and other solutions for human problems to the spiritually possessed. Such a person becomes known as an orhuerakpo, that is, a "solver ofhuman problems." Yet spirits can also make one mad or unbalanced, antisocial,a recluse,and a general failure in life. Such destructive spirits are usually associated with the edjoerivwin. A spirit who possesses a person and makes him or her a medium is providing that individual with a source ofwealth and good luck.Some spirits can be harmful to the one they possess, until he or she succumbs and sets up a shrine for them. The individual will then become a priest, a prophet,and a healer.
Fig. 19 Sacred trees for the orhan aduri at Okpe Olomu.
Taboos and Purification Rites Every edjo or orhan has certain
prescribed codes ofconduct for its votaries. Ifa believer violates any such sacred ethical code, an imbalance will enter the relationship between the two,and the believer will suffer misfortune. To restore the lost harmony,he or she will have to perform some kind ofpurificatory rite. Such rites are also carried out through annual masquerades,usually dedicated to Ohworhu,to cleanse the community ofevils (figs. 5, 20, 46, 54, 55,6o,63-65) Every year between July and October the River Niger overflows its banks, flooding the greater part of Urhoboland. The flood is believed to bring evil spirits with it and to leave some ofthem behind when it recedes. These spirits can cause problems if not properly handled, so steps are taken to exorcise them.This is a principal reason why,in many parts ofUrhoboland, most Ohworhu masquerades occur between September and October each year. The dancers dress in white robes and palm fronds.Some carry whips with which to chase evil and devilish forces from the community. The origin ofa spirit depends on the group to which it belongs. Some spirits are considered to have come into being as a race; like other living creatures,such spirits are said to be capable of reproducing themselves and thus add to their numbers. The Urhobo also believe that animals too have spirits, which,after death,continue to live in Erivwin alongside the human and other spirits. It is believed that the spirits ofanimals sacrificed during funeral ceremonies go with the spirit of the human departed to serve it there. The blood and spirit of the sacrificed animal is believed to appease the spirit ofa divinity or an ancestor in Erivwin. Spirits are believed to be invisible, but may make themselves visible to human beings,especially to infants and to the clairvoyant. Since they are invisible, a person can never be sure where they are or are not, but at the same time they are believed to be ubiquitous. While Urhobo treat the spirits as equals, they also believe that spirits are more powerful than mortal humans-perhaps because spirits are invisible,so that their power cannot be assessed. Yet ritual specialists can manipulate or control them in many ways with sacrifices, charms, and incantations.
Fig. 20 Children-of-the-spirit (emedjo) in raffia costumes, performing at an Ohworhu festival. Evwreni 1972.
Paradoxically, while people may dread or fear the spirits,they are also able to drive the same spirits away,or to exploit them to human advantage. many Urhobo diviners and traditional healers claim to derive assistance from some spirits in their operations. Although spirits are said to be ubiquitous,the Urhobo still designate certain places as their abodes. Some think that spirits, especially those ofthe ancestors, dwell in the netherworld or subterranean regions. Hence libations are poured on the ground.Some spirits are believed to live above the earth. But the strongest beliefofthe people is that both mortals and spirits live on the earth's surface,and that only a thick metaphysical layer ofunknown substance covering the face ofthe mortal protects the spirits from visibility. At times,in fact, the living do perceive the presence ofthe spirits, as when they experience some kind ofeerie feeling. The fact that spirits and mortals are believed to live in the same region partly explains why Urhobo people may feel the need to seek protection from the evil machinations ofedjoerivwin,through charms,magic,medicine, specially designed sacrifices, and cultic practices. And wherever the world ofthe spirits might be, they believe it is like a carbon copy ofthe physical community. It has lakes, farms, forests, marketplaces, and houses. The activities ofspirits resemble those ofmortals. There are stories ofpeople experiencing spirits celebrating during festivals,and taking part in buying and selling at the marketplace. Spirits act maliciously as well as benevolently. People fear them, not necessarily because of what they actually do but because they are "strangers."The unknown is always mysterious and dreadful. Spirits are said to have what the Urhobo call uhoho,a shadowy form ofbody,although they may also assume other forms-animals,plants,inanimate objects.There are many stories of people who have seen spirits in the night,in ponds,singing,holding meetings,working on their farms, nursing their children.They appear to people in dreams,and the clairvoyant claim to be able to see and impart information to them at any time and place. Many Urhobo priests, mediums, diviners, and traditional healers consult the spirits as part oftheir normal training and practice. There is a sacred forest in Uhwerun,called Ore, where spirits are believed to call people by name-but when one turns around to see who has called, no one is there. It is also assumed that spirits sleep by day and wake at night. This is a principal reason why sacrifices for them, especially for the evil-minded ones, are performed at night, when they are believed to be awake and able to receive what is offered to them.These sacrifices are usually taken to crossroads in the community,places where undomesticated spirits are said to hunt at night. People who see spirits too often will feel disturbed, and will consult a diviner to find out what is amiss and what must be done to solve the problem.Spirits possess human beings,and are usually blamed for certain kinds ofillness, such as mental imbalance and epilepsy. From observation all over Urhoboland,women are more prone to spirit possession than men.The casting out ofevil spirits is a principal function oftraditional healers and diviners. When such spirits endanger the life and property ofa community,specific ceremonies are performed to drive them away. Urhobo Concept of Man
The Urhobo conceive ofthe individual as composed oftwo principal entities,erhi(soul,spirit,or life force)and u8boma(body). When referring to these two human realms at the same time, people normally mention erhi before ugboma,since it is the former that gives meaning and expression, or reality, to the latter. They worship these entities through certain physical objects: the erhi cult symbol is a twig from a special tree, which is tied with a piece ofwhite cloth and placed in a white bowl. The only object used in worshiping it is oorhe, white chalk. The ugboma cult symbol is oma,a carved object mounted on a wooden bowl. Ugboma is regarded as a channel or canal through which erhi flows and expresses itself. In addition to erhi and ugboma,the Urhobo identify three further entities that constitute a 42
Cat. 14 Ceremonial rattle Wood,pigment. L 35.6cm. Toby and Barry Hecht Fig. 21 Chief Oduaran as an igbe priest. Eghwu 1971.
human being, together making a set offive: erhi, the soul; ugboma,the physical body; enhwen, the breath oflife; dun, the essence ofthe human heart; and uhoho,the ethereal body. Ancestors
The Urhobo see death as a return to the spirit world, which they believe is our original home. Burial rites are regarded as send-offceremonies for the departed,and must be properly and fully carried out ifthe soul ofthe departed is to be at rest in the spiritual realm.In Urhobo cosmology the deceased are members ofthe family here on earth, but are no longer ofthe same fleshy order. The ancestors (esemo), then, are closely related to this world but are no longer ordinary mortals.Having becomespirits,they are not restricted by timeand space.In traditional Urhobo communities they are seen as factors ofcohesion, protectors ofthe upright and punishers ofevildoers. Not every person who dies, however, becomes an ancestor.To do so one must pass thejudgmentofOghene and the cult ofthe ancestors.The ranks ofthe esemo are limited not only to the good but generally to those who have children and grow old before their death.They must also have been properly buried. Ancestors are an essential link in a hierarchical chain of powers stretching from Akpo to Erivwin. They remain nearby, part ofthe family,and are believed to have mystical powers that
Female figure Wood,red CartIWOOCI powder,Pterocarpus. H.67all. The Metropolitan Museum ofArt,The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection,Bequest ofNelson A. Rockefeller,1979.(1979.zo6.9)
enable them to communicate easily with both the family and Oghene. Their presence is acknowledged daily, particularly during meals and drinking. They receive libations every day and special recognition during annual festivals. Every Urhobo community sets aside special days for the ancestors. Hence we have edesemo, the holy day of male ancestors, and ediniemo, the holy day offemale ancestors. While the most elderly male adult in the family presides over the cult of the male ancestors, the most elderly female adult presides over that ofthe female ancestors.
Fig. 22 Meeting hall housing the ancestor column commemorating the 19 century merchant, Ovwah. Egherhe 1969. Fig. 23 Statue (eshe) of the 19" century merchant, Ovwah. Egherhe 1969.
Festivals are annual events all over Urhoboland. They are held to mark the anniversary of a community's arrival at its present location,and also to honor certain divinities(figs. 5,6, 16, zo, 46-49,52, 54,63-65)The Ade festival, for example, is held annually in Uwherun to honor Onidjo, the arch-divinity who rejected human sacrifices but accepted a cow as a sacrificial victim instead. A wrestling competition is held in her honor(fig. 45). In Uwherun,Onidjo is seen as the mother ofall the edjo divinities. It is during the annual festivals that young wives are escorted to the homes of their new husbands. The belief is that the divinities and ancestors being feasted at the time will bless the marriage. Age Initiations and Elevations
Every year the paramount ruler (Ovie) of an Urhobo community grants chieftaincy titles to honor certain individuals, who swear an oath of allegiance to him in return. These rituals are performed in sacred places after the new chiefs have undergone some kind ofsacred education in a sacred, secluded forest. They become olorosun (plural ilorogun, fig. 7,55)or ohonvwore(plural ehomvore). Such titleholders wear special 44
Fig. 24 Men wrestling in a competition held to honor the brides (opha) of Agadama, 1972.
beads and dresses as insignia of their office and statusâ€”they constitute the ruling elite in the community.;
1. G.G. Darah discusses aghwarode in his chapter on the shrines of Esaba. 2. Tanure Ojaide addresses this characterization in his essay on Urhobo views of Art. 3. This essay is an abbreviated version of a manuscript of the same title that the author intends to publish shortly. To meet the constraints of space, it was edited to its present length by Perkins Foss.
Cat. 16 Mask
Wood,kaolin,fiber. H.53 an. Collection Corice Canton and Armand Arman
Ancestor column Wood, pigment. H. 152.4 cm. David and Clifford Gelbard
Gifts from the Gods: Works in Copper Alloy from Urhobo Medicine Shrines This group of copper alloy castings is typical of the objects that appear as parts of
must be deposited at the orhan. The belief stems from a mystical encounter said to
a shrine for medicine, or orhan (figs. 26,
have been experienced by one Ufi, a poor fisherwoman who collected an unusually
27). In farmland and shallow creeks, Urhobo farmers and fishermen regularly find metal objects in a variety of shapes
large and "strangely shaped" piece of
and sizes, ranging from bell fragments no more than two inches (five centimeters)
chalk in her basket-trap and tried without success to throw it back into the river. That night, she and her husband received
tall to twisted torques around twelve inches (thirty centimeters) long (cats. 18-29,
a "divine visitation" from a man who said, "Me vwe oorhe ren Urhienu." (I am the
31, 32). The culture responsible for making these objects is extremely difficult to
white chalk of the celestial river. I am the god of iron and justice). "Iron" in this
identify and date; they have no convincing formal connection with the styles of the
case alludes to anything made of metal, and the unusual piece of chalk is consid-
Urhobo wood and clay sculpture we know, yet they are well documented to
ered yet another type of sacred message from the other world. The notion of the
have been found in Urhobo soil and waterways. Furthermore, they hold signifi-
"celestial river" refers to the common
cant stature within Urhobo spiritual belief. Urhobo tradition considers these
adage "Edjo n'ame rhe," or "Spirits come from water." An unusual rephrasing occurs here with the allusion to enu, the
objects sacred gifts or messages from the world of the spirits. The source of this
atmosphere; water, in this metaphor, is seen as a mystical phenomenon extending
belief is a cult known as Urhienu, an "ethi-
into the air above.
cal divinity" whose origins Augustine G.
Bells bearing faces are the most commonly encountered form of these copper
Omodeko has traced to the town of Eghwu. Central to the tenets of the cult is the belief that all metal objects found in land or water are owned by the cult and
Fig. 25 Chief Aphunu and his wife, Erovie with objects made of copper alloy metals, that had been found in the ground and surrendered to the orhan called Urhienu. Eghwu 1972.
castings. The tinkling sounds they make are often considered to contain encoded messages from the spirits, as are the calls
Fig. 26 A large orhan. Assembled in a small structure are animal horns and skulls; hundreds of pieces of metal, made copper alloy of copper alloy, cast and wrought iron; an iphri and urhievbe as well as clay and terra cotta figures. The entire shrine has been coated with layers of white chalk. Edjekota 1971.
Cat. 18 Bell Lower Niger, Nigeria Copper alloy. H. 13.5 an. Private Collection
Cat. 19 Bell Lower Niger, Nigeria Copper alloy. H. 15.5 an. Private Collection
Cat. 20 Bell Lower Niger, Nigeria Copper alloy. H. 16cm. Private Collection
Cat. 21 Bell fragment Lower Niger, Nigeria Copper alloy. H. 10.2 crn.
Cat. 22 Bell Lower Niger, Nigeria Copper alloy. H. 8 cm. Private Collection
Cat. 23 Bell fragment Lower Niger, Nigeria Copper alloy. H. 10 cm. Private Collection
Cat. 25 Bell Lower Niger, Nigeria Copper alloy. H. 12 cm. Private Collection,The Netherlands
Cat. 26 Lower Niger, Nigeria Bell Copper alloy. H. ii cm. Private Collection
Cat. 24 Bell fragment Lower Niger, Nigeria Copper alloy. H.9.5 cm. Private Collection
Cat. 27 Bell Lower Niger, Nigeria Copper alloy. H. 13.5 cm. Private Collection
Cat. 28 Scepter finial Lower Niger, Nigeria Copper alloy. L 14.5cm. Private Collection
Cat. 29 Currency coil Lowcr Niger, Nigeria Copper alloy. H. 12.7 cm. Toby and Barry Hecht
Cat. 30 Anklet Lower Niger, Nigeria Copper alloy. D r2.5 cm. Private Collection
Cat. 31 Anklet Lower Niger, Nigeria Copper alloy. D. 10.5 cm. Private Collection
Cat. 32 Scepter finial Lower Niger, Nigeria Copper alloy. L 8.5 cm. Private Collection
of certain birds. In some cases a priest will wear these bells on his fingers and will play them, in a call-and-response, to establish contact with the spirit world (fig. 13). A man of exceptionally high ritual status may also wear such bells around his neck (fig. 8). Two of the bells in this group, the socalled "Birmingham Bells" (cats. 19, 20), were not made in Africa at all: identical in form and size, they were cast from a mold, not made by the traditional lost-wax method. John Picton recalls that he and William Fagg saw "bells with a stamped job number on the back" at the British Museum in the 1970s, and that "unlike the Nigerian bells they were cast in piece molds, as evidenced by the seams along each side from top to bottom. [Fagg's] hypothesis was that an enterprising D.O.
1972. They further stated that it was origi-
[District Officer] or trader might have
nally attached to a kneeling figure, per-
seen these things on shrines and taken one to a UK foundry (Birmingham is only
is scanty at best, the work seems to offer
a suggestion of where they might have
fascinating connections both to the cul-
been made) to produce a series, then to
ture of Ife (c. 1200-1500 A.D.) in western Nigeria and to that of the archaeological
test their sales-worthiness in the lower Niger region."3 In that connection, another especially interesting bell is a similar one
haps four feet tall. While this information
Fig. 27 Chief Ughwanogo of Orogun (seated right) and his son (seated left) and their extended family. Ughwanogo was reputed to be over 110 years old, and was considered the okpako-ode, the oldest living Urhobo. On the altar before him are dozens of works of art cast in copper alloy that had been found in the ground in the Orogun area. Orogun 1966.
site of Igbo-Ukwu (c. 850 A.D.) in the eastern part of the country.4
(cat. 18) that could well have been a prototype for the "Birmingham" design. 1.
One spectacular orhan image should be considered one-of-a-kind, and quite possibly as suggesting a link between what is now Urhoboland and ancient West African cultures. It was seen on an orhan in Edjekota in 1972 (fig. 28). Made not in copper alloy but in terra-cotta, it took the form of a life-sized head, with fine striations radiating from the nose, and was called "onnotoke," a term of endear-
Augustine G. Omodeko, The Cult of Urhienu Divinity in Urhoboland," Extended Essay for BA. (Hons) Religious Studies, Department of Religious Studies, University of lbadan, Nigeria. For the date of the cult's founding, Omodeko alludes only to "olden days" (p. 15). 2. Omodeko does not offer the Urhobo expression for second part of this quotation. 3. John Picton, personal communication with the author, February 7, 2004. 4. See Thurstan Shaw, lgbo-Ukwu: an account of archaeological discoveries in eastern Nigeria (London, Published for the Institute of African Studies University of lbadan by Faber), passim: and Frank Willett, lfe in the history of West African sculpture (London: Thames & Hudson, 1967), passim.
Fig. 28 Terra cotta head, called Omotoke, an orhan. Edjekota 1972.
ment for an especially beautiful girl. On its forehead were a pair of short, rounded horns and, in the center, the fragmentary remains of a round medallion. On its top was an elaborate coiffure in pillow-like sections. The individuals maintaining the shrine said that the piece was found by a farmer before the births of anyone alive in
Cat. 33 Female figure Wood, pisment. H. cm. Mr.and Mrs. Borro Samir
Shrines ofEsaba G. G. DARAH
THE URHOBO COMMUNITY OF ESABA, in
Ughelli South Local Government Area ofDelta State, lies on Owahwa Island on the southern bank of the Owahwa-Esaba River, a tributary of the Forcados River. The Owahwa-Esaba has two branches: one starts to the southwest, at Ighwreogun on the Forcados,and drains the Otutuama-Otegbo wetlands;the other originates in the Oto-Ude-Ukpiovwin wetlands to the north and runs south via Ubogo, Emadadja, OkoloUphic, Owahwa, and Eku-Ota to meet the Ighwreogun branch of the river to the east of Ukperherun. From here the Owahwa-Esaba runs as a meander northwest through Ukperherun and Esaba and then southwest via Epame to rejoin the Forcados River by the Krotoko creek near Isaba,an Ijo community in Warni Southwest Local Government Area. Esaba is one of the thirty-two communities in the Ughienvwe village group. Within Ughienvwe it belongs to a smaller subgroup or clan, the Owahwa subgroup, which contains ten communities. Esaba contains about i,000 people and was settled about 400 years ago. The date is estimated from the genealogy of the founding family, which traces back to the settlement of Otughienvwe, the headquarters ofthe Ughienvwe people. This family was that ofa man called Emoghwe,from the Urhie quarter ofOwahwa Town,who was accompanied in the task by a relative, Itine. From their roots at Otughienvwe, the Emoghwe family has had twelve elders or heads(ekpako onta,singular okpako orua), a role always assigned to males. I am the twelfth in the line.The name"Esaba" is a corruption ofthe word "eseba," meaning"let us extend our[Owahwa] land." Settlement Structure
The physical structure ofEsaba is typical oftraditional Urhobo planning (see annotated map of Esaba, page 54). From the riverbank the settlement stretches about a quarter ofa mile inland. It is divided by a main street(ada or usuada), which is also the thoroughfare that connects Esaba to the other communities on the island (Otutuama, Ophorigbala, and Ighwreogun) and to Udu communities to the north.This street isjoined by pathways that lead into Esaba's various neighborhoods and family units. Shrines and Religious Sites
Fig. 29 Three stills from a video taken at Arhude Shrine in 2001 by Perkins Foss.
Shrines and other religious and artistic sites are located at various points throughout Esaba,as is again typical ofUrhobo settlements. These sites reflect the religious and spiritual life ofthe community. Religious institutions both communal and private constitute the arsenal offorces and metaphysical agencies that ensure the community's safety, protection,and well-being. Seasonal ritual observances and festivals are conducted to renew the potency of these agencies, and to enable the people to maintain good relationships with them. These festivals and ritual ceremonies, then, coordinate the economic, spiritual, social, artistic, and recreational life of the group. A description ofsome ofthe shrines and sacred sites follows.
Proposed New Emoghwe Estate
10 To Uto and farmland
ESABA-UKPERHEREN ROAD (1961)
MAP OF ESABA with Community Institutions Olokun Shrine Edovie Shrine Oghene Pole Ogwan Ovworho Private Igbe Healing Home Ogwan Itine Private Maternity Clinic Agbragha Shrine/Electricity Transformer 9. Waka's Private Shrine 10. Edjo-Oto (Earth God) 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.
11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21.
Edjokpa (Palm Produce Shrine) Uduvwontu Family Shrine Arhude Shrine Emoghwe Family Shrine Ogwan Emoghwe Private Igbe Ritual Home lphri Keepers Home Ogwan lpeghe Old Site of Anglican Church Aghwarode(Forbidden Forest) Masquerade Grove
MEM ••10 ••• 0.• •MIN
Wooden pontoon Esaba Wetlands Academy(proposed)
Community water well
Nir Southeast gate immunity emblem
bearing from the waterfront,this is the first religious center. A small building houses ritual objects, mostly whitened with chalk(oorhe). A three-foot-high platform(asbada)outside the building displays emblems and offerings such as bottled mineral water,coconut,tapioca,and other sweet things believed to be favorites of Olokun, the water goddess. Olokun is worshipped once a year. A chiefpriest wearing all-white apparel presides. i. Olokun Shrine. Taking our
z. Edovie Shrine. Edovie is a variety oforhan (a protective god), and the Edovie shrine in Esaba, which stands about a hundred yards from the waterfront, is owned by the community. It was set up in the nineteenth century by an herbal specialist called Ruobo,from Ujevwu, to halt an epidemic of premature deaths that afflicted the town. The architecture of the shrine is elaborate: an outer perimeter oftrees surrounds an inner,diminutive house containing all the ritual paraphernalia.The form ofthe shrine is oblong, with entrances at both ends. In the interior, screened from outside view by raffia curtains, priests conduct worship sessions while other worshippers congregate outside.At the time ofthe festival for Edovie,three carriers bring emblems each representing a specific element ofthe Edovie system. 3. Oshene Pole. Urhobo settlements rarely contain a shrine house to Oghene. Instead the Supreme God is symbolized by a pole about thirty feet tall, with at its top a conical basket or fish trap open to the sky. Long strings ofcowrie shells hang down the pole from top to bottom, and sessions ofworship and blessing take place around its base. Many years ago, a bundle of protective charms wrapped in mats was suspended across the main street at a point near the Edovie shrine and the Oghene pole. Another bundle ofcharms located at the other end of the community, on the road to Otutuama, survives to the present day. These charms are believed to be part of the systems that secured the community from external forces ofaggression and evil. They are believed to have the power to neutralize any sinister charm deployed by external enemies.
4. ogwan Ovworho. This is the community
center, where the administrative and social work ofthe town is conducted. Inside the hall is the eshe (ancestral altar) ofthe community, where the okpako orere(the most senior elder) offers prayers and sacrifice to the ancestors. The altar consists of a small earthen mound with an opening at its top; the skulls ofsacrificial animals hang on the rear and side walls, which are further marked with dried blood stains from these sacrifices. In structure the shrine is identical to that of the neighborhood meeting halls that appear throughout all Urhobo communities:a long rear wall,two short side walls,and,in the front,a pair oflow side walls and an opening in the center. 5. Private Isbe Healins Home. Esaba hosts a private traditional healing home established by David Ovwere Okogbe, a former vendor of medicine. The home consists of a shrine for Igbe worship and a space where patients live, participating in Igbe dance and worship sessions that are integral parts ofthe treatment of the ailments for which they are admitted. An annual festival is held here. 6. 째swan Itine. This is the family hall of
the Itine quarter. Its features arc similar to those found in the Ogwan Ovworho (no. 4) and in the family halls ofother quarters. 7. Private Maternity Clinic. In the 19805, Awolowo Muayor, a naturally gifted healer with no training beyond a primary-school education, established a maternity clinic in Esaba. He handles cases offemale fertility, the delivery of babies, orthopedic cure, surgery, and general medication. In two decades he has suffered no mortalities in his practice. He is patronized by patients in all of the surrounding communities, and is sometimes invited to help with difficult cases in urban centers such as Warn. 8. As brasha Shrine/Museum. This building houses the masks used in Esaba's masquerade festivals. In the 19405 and '5os the masks included exquisite examples made by a notable local sculptor, Leleji. Heat,damp,and termites have destroyed most ofthese objects,
and the Agbragha shrine is now a relic ofits old self. Beside it stands the transformer for the electricity that the Delta State government brought to the village in 2002. 9. Waka's Private Shrine. On the opposite side of the Uduvwonto neighborhood from the family shrine is a private shrine set up by one Waka in a room in his house,on the town's main street. He was born in the late isaos; his family chose to name him after a British officer called Walker, who introduced taxation to Urhoboland. Waka ministered to devotees and others in need ofspiritual health. to. Edjo-Oto(Earth God)Shrine. Edjo-Oto is the divinity ofproduction,especially in farming and agriculture. His shrine was once marked by an oghrilci (Newboldia) tree, now fallen from old age; residential buildings have also encroached on the site,and the site has not been relocated. A ritual master for the shrine used to be appointed by the village's founding family, or chosen from among its members. This practice too has fallen into abeyance. it. Edjokpa (Palm Produce Shrine). The palm-produce shrine,a palm tree surrounded by low shrubs of trees was once among the most important religious symbols in Esaba. Emblems at the shrine included a tree-climbing rig (eft), palm oil sprayed at the palm's base, and other items indicating the importance of the oil-palm industry (okpa) in the Urhobo economy.The shrine is now in disuse, its dual-trunked palm tree has fallen,and cassava farms have eaten up the once sacred siteall signs ofthe diminishing place ofthe oilpalm industry in Urhobo life. Uduvwonto Fam4y Shrine. My generation,born in the late 19405,did notgrow up to see a structure serving as the family hall ofthe Uduvwonto quarter, but there was a small shrine between the houses of Iholo and Uhwen. It was owned by the entire family unit ofUduvwonto. 12.
Cat. 34 Male figure Wood,pigment. H.142 an. Private Collection,France
13.Arhude Shrine.The Arhude shrine stands opposite Esaba's primary school, on the Otutuama end ofthe main street. Structurally
it resembles the Edovie shrine. Although the site is inland, the worship ofthe edjo Arhude involves rituals conducted on water. The annual festival used to start with a boatjourney to a river confluence some five miles away. There the spirits ofthe waters were invoked by hitting the skull of a crocodile on the water. The return journey took the form of a naval exercise, with drumming,singing,and dances signifying a triumphal return from battle. Arhude is unique in that a female priestess is one ofits retinue ofritual officers(see fig; 29). 14. Emoghwe Family Shrine. Known as Okerekpo-okerevon ("When water ebbs, it also fills up again"), the Emoghwe family shrine was established to secure the fortunes ofthe Emoghwe family. It was located by the main street and consisted of a miniature house and enclosure. Shortly after I drew a sketch map ofthe Esaba shrines for the present project, Christian members ofthe family decided to destroy the shrine, alleging that it was inhabited by evil forces. Their action underscores the ongoing tension in Esaba and in most Urhobo communities between adherents ofold and new cultural attitudes. 15.()swan Emoghwe.The Ogwan Emoghwe is in the center of the Emoghwe quarter of
Esaba. It occupies the site ofthe old Victorianstyle house ofthe Darah family, built .n 1_R25 and existing on the site until 1926.The eshe in the hall used to be rich in emblems and family memorabilia, including the skulls of animals sacrificed over nearly fifty years ofannual ore (feasts) of ancestral worship. Unfortunately, these materials were destroyed at the same time as the Emoghwe family shrine.
17. Iphri Keeper's House. The late Ogugu
was the keeper of the iphri sculpture, which was housed in his home in the Ipeghe quarter ofEsaba. Its annual festival was marked with songs, dancing, and feasting. The sculpture has deteriorated since Ogugu's death, due to inadequate care. 18. 째swan Ipeghe. The Ipeghe family hall was once a repository of symbols of family history, culture, and religion. The eshe was fully decked with art and ritual objects. The hall is centrally located in the Ipeghe quarter; on one side was the house of Ogugu, where the iphri emblem was kept, and on the other was the residence ofthe late Dolo, who in his time was Esaba's most accomplished drummer and masquerader. 19. Old Site OfAn8lican Church.In the 195os, new Christian converts set up makeshift worship centers in Esaba. An early group of Anglicans sited their thatch-roofed church to the eastern edge ofthe Ipeghe quarter; the site has since been abandoned. Catholics are currently planning to build a church house near the site ofthe Edjo-Oto shrine.
zo,21. Two other, minor shrines should be mentioned; both are by the river. The first(2o) is the forbidden forest (aghwarode) in the Ipeghe quarter, in a thickly wooded grove on the way to a burial ground for those who have died ofdiseases or accidents. The second(21)is on the outskirts of the Itine quarter, and serves as the grove where masqueraders dress before they come to the arena to perform.
16. Private Igbe Ritual Home. Until his death, in 1998, Oyibu Biagboron Darah, my immediate predecessor as the okpako orua (family head) of Emoghwe, owned this ritual home.Igbe devotees worshiped there regularly and held annual festivals attended by branches ofthe Igbe movement in other communities.
Iphri: Artfor Controllin8 A88ression PERKINS FOSS
have a complex artistic metaphor for aggression (figs. 30, 31, 34-37,69; cats. 16, 28, 35, 37,46,49,50, 52, 461, 65,69). The form is known as iphri'. It appears as an individually owned work ofart through the entire spectrum ofUrhobo society,from youngest infant to mostsenior elder,from subsistence cultivator to village-group leader. The iphri alludes to two distinct aspects ofaggression:it inspires a warrior to defend his homeland, but it also controls an aggressive individual. Great warriors of the past are often remembered as zealous owners ofiphri;the images that they maintained long ago are revered by their descendants as posthumous testaments to their leadership and martial prowess. Conversely, argumentative individuals who never concede or compromise may manage to channel their misdirected energies into iphri, and thus to reestablish the equilibrium essential for peaceful social relationships. Each ofthese seemingly contrary aspects ofthe iphri is vital to Urhobo civilization. In this duality lies the iphri's power and beauty. THE SOUTHERN VILLAGE-GROUPS OF URHOBOLAND
An Introduction to the Form In most iphri carvings a single male figure,sometimes accompanied by two or more supporting
figures, sits or stands atop a quadruped whose oversized face is dominated by a complex display ofteeth. The body ofthis beast usually remains plain and unembellished, but assumes a variety ofshapes: sometimes a reclining cylinder, sometimes a sphere, sometimes a box. In nearly all examples the abdomen ofthe central human figure reads as teeth and mouth. The entire form rests on four outward-flaring legs that often have small faces at the knees ofthe front pair. Thus the most fundamental elements ofiphri are: a human figure-above teeth-above four legs. Teeth dominate the image. Frontally positioned, they dramatically define its vertical axis and assume a central role both physically and metaphorically. Teeth epitomize aggressive strength. Every other element ofthe form is orchestrated around the teeth,and depends on them for both its positioning and the very nature ofits rendering. Aggression and Predestiny
The Urhobo arefine people,yes, but they like "case" too much! -ChiefAjanaku,Araba ofLagos The Urhobo believe that a person's accomplishments are guided by a statement made at the moment ofbirth, when a newborn baby cries out its atarhe,or"speaking out." At that moment one is believed to announce all that one hopes to do in life.' Ifthe infant wants to have a balanced but forceful personality, to be orator as well as warrior, he will state that he will be guided by a strong iphri. He will ask to be successful in dealing with litigation,or "case," as it is called in colloquial Nigerian English. A man may ask for positive support from his iphri in order to become a brave and powerful fighter. To succeed in the world he must nourish certain aggressive tendencies, yet must also keep these capacities under control at all times and in all circumstances; here too his iphri can help him.
Fig. 30 An iphri performance at Edjekota. On certain occasions iphri became strategic weapons. Legend says that in the days of intervillage conflict they were carried at the head of a column of warriors in attacks on the enemy. This potent psychological device was said to be so powerful that the battle was often over before it had begun, with the opposition fleeing in fear from this vision of overwhelming psychological power. When a community elects to renew the powers of an iphri, besides making offerings of sacrificial food and drink they will hold a mock battle in which the sculpture is carried aloft on the head or shoulders of the onotu (war-leader). On July 17, 1972, Etuke Odjesa, the current owner of the Esosuofamily iphri, arranged a demonstration of such a mock battle. Early in the afternoon, men of all ages congregated in the family ogwan. In the rear-left corner of the room stood the iphri, freshly painted on its teeth and ears with white chalk on on the standing figure on top with lush red camwood and with contrasting chalked eyes (fig. 35). Tied to the rear was an assemblage of fresh palm fronds (omwen) that had been carefully twisted into a form known as the "wing" (ibekpe), which helps the spirit of the iphri "fly outward" with its power. The ibekpe usually takes the form of narrow slats of wood lashed together and held in place by a pair of vertical elements tied to the outside edges of the form. Behind this backdrop is a layer of raffia that hangs down to the ground. The bird metaphor embodied by the ibekpe is crucial to an understanding of the imagery of the iphri form: iphri are said to have the power to travel, to seek out potential enemies, to protect those who travel away from home, to bring reports to the owners of any potential trouble besetting them. The wing, adding an element of motion, of speed over distances, compounds the ferocity of the beast, in terms of fleetness. In addition to the metaphoric attributes of the form, the wing also adds an important visual element: it acts as a frame, expanding the upper reaches of the form and reducing or concentrating the lower parts, providing a visual focus for the mouth-of-aggression. After an hour of song and prayer invoking the names of great soldiers of years past, the men assembled outside the family hall. Armed with a wide range of weapons, including swords, knives, cutlasses, heavy sticks, and sword scab-
The use ofan iphri is nearly an exclusively male phenomenon. Women are seen as having neither the problem of uncontrollable aggression nor the need for aggressive powers. Like men, they say their atarhe at birth, but as they "speak" they make no statement about iphri. As part ofhis atarhe, the infant should announce that he will have a calm,controllable iphri, in other words that he will be able to control his aggressive instincts. An individual who completes his atarhe properly, it has been said, will live with "his iphri standing quietly at his side" (fig. 15).4 lphri Ownership and the Urhobo Personality
One avenue toward understanding the meaning and significance ofthe iphri is to consider the personality of the odiphri, or iphri-owner.s We begin with the case of the type ofinfant who is often referred to as a "problem child"â€”who cries constantly, may well suffer from colic, dysentery, or other chronic childhood ailments, and who in general makes his parents' lives difficult
bards, they slashed and parried at each other while continuing their songs. Throughout they were supported in song and dance by the women of the family, who surrounded the warriors and exhorted them with high-spirited clapping and cheering. Suddenly one individual ducked back into the family hall and crouched low as he lifted Etuke's iphri off the ground. He lunged into the assembled crowd outside, where, to the cheers of the throng, he hoisted the object onto his shoulders. He thrust forward and back, then to left and right; all the while the surrounding soldiers continued their battle. The entire group ran first to one far corner of the compound, then to another, as though defending their space from invading forces. In a kind of triumphal retreat, the entire group sang and danced back to the family hall. Two young men carefully took the iphri off the warriordancer's shoulder, and as the men settled into their seats in the meeting hall, they put it in its original spot in the corner. Closing prayers commenced, with plenty of gin for all the celebrants, and soon the event concluded.
Cat. 35 Statue for male aggression (iphri) Wood, pistnent. H. 104 cm. Pace Primitive Gallery, New York
or even unbearable.6 In such circumstances the frustrated parent will approach a diviner (oboepha, literally "doctor of divination") who may diagnose that "the child's iphri is hungry" and that, to appease it, the child must wear a small iphri around his neck(fig. 33). A child's iphri
is simple and unadorned,allowing us a valuable opportunity to examine its fundamental formal qualities. It takes the form ofa truncated four-sided pyramid whose square base is incised into quarters.No more than an inch tall, it has a hole drilled through its middle to allow it to be worn around the neck on a string.' After infancy is over,other qualities ofchildren are often attributed to an iphri-related problem,the most common example being the inability to share food with siblings. In the adult context, another classic symptom involves feelings of deep-seated, uncompromising resentment and an unwillingness to forgive petty transgressions.' An Urhobo may keep an iphri for a number of reasons. Inheriting social problems from childhood, he may be cantankerous,a constant litigant,one who"likes case too much."The iphri provides the means to control or redirect such social improprieties. At the same time,it also provides guidance when skills in litigation are necessary. To the Urhobo,one ofthe most valuable social virtues is the ability to make a persuasive case, to pursue an argument as thoroughly and convincingly as possible. Such abilities reach heights of drama in public and private debate. Representatives offamilies, wards, villages,and on rare occasions entire village-groups gather at their family hall(ogwan)to discuss both routine business and exceptional matters. These gatherings are highly structured affairs from beginning to end,from seating arrangements to accepted mode ofaddress. First, the otota(spokesman) rises and calls greetings to the assembly: Urhobo people, greetings! Wards ofthe community,greetings! Families ofthe community,greetings!
Titled men! I call your attention!' He speaks without interruption. Only very rarely is protocol breached by someone cutting him off or interjecting more than the briefest remark. Occasionally the formula is ruptured, especially at moments of great dissent or tension: one man interrupts. Another jumps up to protest the interruption. In an instant,everyone is on his feet, arguing heatedly, and the meeting dissolves into chaos. Everyone shouts; people leave their seats; many leave the room; outsiders rush into the unstable situation. The meeting ends in disarray. When the format of a meeting collapses in such a manner,it is said that those who broke protocol by interrupting the normal processes "are troubled by their iphri." A man who is always losing things, or who, whether from absentmindedness or sheer bad luck,suffers the misfortune oflosing something he values, will serve his iphri (i.e., ritually feed it food and drink, with accompanying prayers) in order CO regain what he has lost, and simultaneously to develop the skills necessary to keep himselffrom losing things again.'Another example ofthe odiphri is the oboepha(diviner) who will keep an iphri to protect himselfagainst the hostility of unsatisfied clients or ofcompeting individuals in the same profession, and to add aggressive and protective strength to the medicinal shrine(orhan) through which he cures his patients. Beyond these specific cases, the most deep-seated reasons for iphri ownership relate to warfare. Testimonies from old and young alike allude repeatedly to battles between communities both neighboring and distant. In the nineteenth century it was not unusual for a village-group to maintain simultaneous hostile relationships with most or even all ofits neighbors." Although acts ofovert aggression ended with the advent ofcolonial rule in the early decades ofthe twentieth century, the Pax Britannica did not quell antagonisms among village-groups. Indeed land
Fig. 31 Chief Erhiaganoma Oyovwikefe of Orhokpokpo, Agbarho village-group, posed for a photograph with his iphri in November 1971. He holds in his right hand a staff indicating his rank as a distinguished elder (opko ohonwvorhin). In the sculpture, a male figure rises out of the torso of the animal form below. With swelling chest and foursquare shoulders, his arms are bent at the elbows and reach forward to grasp the outer edges of a pair of hornlike crescents that rise from the front of the beast-form. This posture alludes to the man above as a rider of the beast below. The legs flare outward at the base and have clearly defined toes. Their swelling curve is echoed in turn by the outward sweep of the horn/ear forms above, which are grasped by the hands of the rider. With rigid torso, shoulders thrust back, and chest swelling outward, the human figure looms over the animal. It has a distinguished headpiece in the form of four crests, three of which descend symmetrically at the back of the head, with a fourth descending at the front. Erhiaganoma identified this configuration as a "hat for war" (erhu re ophovwi). On top of the carving, the rider also wears the fragmentary remains of an actual hat, allegedly the very one worn by the first owner of the piece, one Egha (c. 1790â€”c. 1860), grandfather of the present owner, who was himself a great warrior. There are, however, other implications to this hat form. In numerous face masks, especially those connected with the water-spirit known as Ohworhu common to much of southern Urhoboland, predominant motifs in the superstructures include numerous birds whose beaks overhang in much the same manner as this "hat." The artist could well have had such a visual pun in mind. Indeed, perhaps the most complete way to view this form is as an abstract metaphor alluding to all threeâ€”hat, bird, hair. In interviews conducted in December 1971 and again in December 2000, after the death of Erhiaganoma in 1985, family members recalled the name of the artist, one Akpojivi of Orhokpokpo, and dated the work to about 1840.
Fig. 31 An elaborate substyle of lphri comes from the Ughienvwe village group. All were made by the same hand or at least by individuals who were working in collaboration. One is in the collection of the British Museum (fig. 31); another is in the Seattle Museum of Art (see Pamela McClusky 2002:168) and another is in an American private collection (cat. 36). A fourth example was seen in 1969 in Ughienvwe,(see Foss, 1975:pl. 62, 63).
In all four of these iphri, a nearly spherical beast whose front is dominated by a massive teeth-revealing mouth, which is further articulated by large cylindrical canines thrusting upward and down, rests upon four legs that angle outward slightly at the knees. A human head sits atop the beast, and arm-like forms extend laterally to join the shoulders of a pair of smaller, full-bodied supporting figures sited. Above the central head, resting on a platform established by four human heads stands a large animal that has been identified as an abstract version of a hippopotamus. A human head turned on its side supports each foot of the animal above. These faces repeat, in miniature, the same design as those of the more prominent visage. Beast below balances animal above. The huge, gaping mouth of the beast-form swells outward in a threatening, dangerous manner. A further allusion to the beast's ferocity is invested in the four heads supporting the feet of the upper animal. As the ultimate allusion
Cat. 36 Statue for male aggression (iphri) Wood, pipicrit. H.78.7 cm. Mr. and Mrs. Arnold Rogoar
warfare, iphri.owners in Otughienvwe suggested in
1969 that these heads refer to the image's ability to capture slaves and kill enemies. The Ughienvwe iphri, then,
disputes are very much alive today; the struggles, however, are now fought out in town meetings,courtrooms,and the pages oflocal media." A few references in the literature shed light on the relationship ofthe iphri to war and the slave trade. Discussing the history of the Isoko, a neighboring people closely related to the Urhobo, J. W. Hubbard writes that one of the sons of the founder ofIkpidiama "was a noted slave-trader and a worshipper of ivri [sic], an edjo who was the patron ofthe slave-raiders."" He also tells ofa great warrior and odiphri named Agbahovbe from the town ofIyede,"a champion fighter ofenormous physique,and a great slave-trader.... he was ... a worshipper ofthe edjo ivri [sic]." Hubbard also relates a briefbut poignant verse: Agbahovbe when he sold his people into slavery used to sing a song ofpraise to his iphri: They are shaking and trembling, I have sold him. They are shaking and trembling, Oh! My Iphri." Slaving is a common motifin praise poetry for iphri. This verbal art plays a major role in the serving ofiphri, where its themes center on the overt violence that stems from an individual's precipitation ofthe wrath ofan odiphri. In addition, the iphri is praised as a prime vehicle for gaining revenge on a transgressor:5 lphri and Collective Ownership Many ofthe most artistically ambitious iphri are maintained by an extended family, an entire lineage, an entire village, and in exceptional instances an entire village-group. In all such cases the figure in question was originally owned by a single individual, usually a prominent warrior; upon his death his family would continue to serve his iphri, both to commemorate him and to continue the protection against aggression that he had afforded them. As time went by, and as lineages expanded with each new generation, more and more families would become incorpo-
becomes a patron of all those engaged in acts of hostility and aggression. The central figure also balances a huge and dangerous animal on his head, while maintaining the composure of a successful warrior-hunter. The flanking postures apparent in this substyle immediately call to mind similar forms in the art of the neighboring royal court of Benin, where a divine king (Oba) is commonly represented in sculpture with hieratically ordered flanking arrangements. The composition of these four pieces is exceptionally consistent, especially for a figurative type that elsewhere is treated with great variety. It is also striking to see four pieces rendered so nearly as duplicates of one another given that these examples rank among the most complex of all iphri On the basis of this information, it is reasonable to assume that the piece was carved some time before 1875. Two of the four pieces were seen and photographed in Urhoboland. In these examples appears a most important additional element: a backdrop, in the form of narrow slats of wood lashed together and held in place by a pair of vertical elements tied to the outside edges of the form. Behind this backdrop is a layer of raffia that hangs down to the ground. The entire assemblage is known as the "wing"(ibekpe) of the iphri; this bird-metaphor is crucial to an understanding of the imagery of the form. lphri are said to have the power to travel, to seek out potential enemies, to protect those who travel away from home, to bring reports to the owners of any potential trouble besetting them. The wing, adding an element of motion, of speed over distances, compounds the ferocity of the beast, in terms of fleetness. In addition to the metaphoric attributes of the form, the wing also adds an important visual element. It acts as a frame, which expands the upper reaches of the form, and reduces or concentrates the lower parts, thus providing a visual focus for the mouth-ofaggression.
Flg. 33 lboyi Meriore in 1971, age four. Considered a "difficult child," one who did not sleep well, who resisted sharing his food with others, he wears a small iphri around his neck. A diviner advised his grandfather, Meriore Arhirhe, that the child was odiphri, one who was under the influence of iphri. To help him develop a more socially balanced personality, his grandfather carved a small image for him. Edjekota 1971. Fig. 34 A small iphri collected by Kenneth Murray in Eghwu, in the collection of the Nigerian Museum, Lagos.
Cat. 37 Statue for male aggression (iphri) Wood. H.65 cm. Collection A.C. Lebas
rated under the iphri's protection and the base ofallegiance would spread. Originally the iphri would have been located within the warrior's house,behind a low cloth curtain in a corner ofthe central room (figs.7, 35); after his death,it would have stayed there for many generations, being maintained by his sons and grandsons. As the family grew larger, however, the image would have been transferred to the collective meeting hall ofthe lineage. In subsequent years, some families might lapse in serving this communal image, whether because ofconversion to Christianity,attrition in numbers,or simply because they no longer felt the need for a controller ofaggression. In such cases the elders ofthe town might decide to elevate the iphri once again by moving it to the ogwan ovworho,or town meeting hall, making it the property not ofone lineage but ofthe entire town. Serving lphri
The iphri must be fed.Offerings are presented to its open mouth.This feeding must be done every four days.'6 Ifone fails to perform regular feeding, it is said that the iphri "gets hungry" and may become troublesome,directly supporting the allusive implications ofstomach-with-bared-teeth.
Fig. 35 The iphri of the Ogberakan quarter, Edjekota, Ogo village-group, was originally owned by Esosuo, who was one of three men who settled Edjekota after leading a migration in c. 1850 from the parent community of Otogo. (see also frontispiece for another sculpture by a closely related hand). Upon their arrival at the new site, the three men became embroiled in land disputes with neighbors: Eghwu to the south, Evwreni to the southeast, and Olomu to the west. Once the battles had ceased and Edjekota was firmly established, each of the three wards of the town maintained the iphri owned by its respective founder. Over the next century (c. 1870-1970), two of these three iphri decayed and were not replaced; that of Esosuo was carefully maintained, however, and in 1972 it stood dramatically in the left-rear corner of the meeting hall for the Ogberakan lineage. At that time many Edjekota elders wanted to move it to the meeting hall for the entire town, to consolidate the community further. Edjekota 1971.
While the process offeeding controls and contains aggression,the opposite is also true: an odiphri can use the image to strengthen his own bellicose resources. Regular feeding ofthe image enables its owner to become a better warrior. The dual nature of iphri ownership and serving is often apparent in the same individual.Prayers and songs for iphri usually fall into the latter category;" that is to say, the iphri is praised in terms ofits aggressive nature. But an underlying current is also apparent: while the purpose ofthe iphri is to destroy and conquer one's enemies, it also will help one to contain the antisocial problems that arise from excessive hostility, and in the process will teach one the ultimate conquest ofone's self Conclusion Iphri imagery relates to all aspects of Urhobo male society, from the troublesome infant to the departed warrior-hero and,by extension,to the entire lineage. It presents a powerful visual statement of all aspects of male aggression. The iphri embodies both positive and negative values, both defensive and offensive aggression.It allows an overly contentious individual to contain his ill will and empowers the warrior to defend his home;it also emboldens the thiefand the slavetrader to new heights ofaggression.
Fig,36 An iphri receiving an offering of chalk. Otokutu 1972.
Fig. 37 An iphri with attendants and accouterments. lphri, it is said, get hungry. To maintain their protective nature, they need to be ritually fed. The teeth-at-the-stomach of the figure become the metaphoric center of power for the form, and it is here that offerings as placed. Most commonly offered are chalk (oorhe), kola nuts (evwe) and gin (udi). Orughworun 1972
4. 5. 6.
This term has been published with a number of variant spellings, reflecting different dialects of Urhobo and the neighboring !sok째, and Ijo: iphri, ivri, ivwri, efiri, efri. Numerous scholars whose first language is Urhobo have suggested the present usage, iphri. The most comprehensive study to date is a doctoral thesis by John Tokpabere Agberia, lphri Sculptures as icon and images of religious worship among the Urhobo people of Nigeria. Ph.D. thesis, University of Port Harcourt, 1998. Further reinforcement supporting this choice has come from recent personal communications from Darah and Onobrakpeya, and especially from Professor Rose Oro Aziza of the Department of Language and Linguistics at Delta State University, Abraka. A general belief among the Urhobo is that before infants learn human speech, they have the ability to communicate with spirit forces. This particular skill is lost once they learn to speak mortal languages. A parallel communication is said to be shared by the very old, who, in their dotage, are believed to speak incoherently with the world of the spirits. There is a recorded exception: in 1971, Susan Moore met a female iphri-owner who had been instructed by a diviner to obtain and serve an iphri after the tragic deaths of four of her five children. The circumstances surrounding this use of an iphri by a woman seem so exceptional as to prove the rule. Informant: William Okorotete of Efru, September 1967. Odiphri literally translates as "name-of-iphri," but the significance of the term goes beyond this simple gloss. A more complete translation might be "center-of-iphri," "source-of-iphri," or "power-of-iphri." One of the first of many individuals who described an odiphri child to me in these terms was Isiorho Ose, an artist from the community of Ovu Waterside, interviewed on June 17, 1966. Isiorho put it this way: "If a child cries all night and doesn't stop, his father will give him iphri and the child will get well." Samson Ohirian of Ukpe-Olomu, in an interview conducted on December 10, 1971, said that the child will only wear the image for as long as his parents feel he needs it, or as long as the diviner recommends. In practice, however, once a boy becomes an odiphri, he will continue to be one for the rest of his life. He wears the iphri around his neck "until he is old enough to accompany his father (in tasks of daily life, that is, until he reaches young adulthood)." I am grateful to Ohirian for the wealth of iphri lore that he so kindly shared with me. An elder in Efru put it this way:"Suppose I borrow your pen. Tomorrow you return and ask for the pen. Unfortunately I have to tell you that I have lost it. But I promise to buy you another one. You complain that it is not your pen. So I go out and buy a much better pen. In return you ridicule me before your friends for having lost your pen. Next day I bring you five pens, all better than the one that I borrowed. Still you complain that none of these is your pen, and that I am responsible for having lost it. Whenever you see me for months to come, you complain that I was the one who lost your pen, and in the ultimate insult, your children carry the grudge into the next generation." There are numerous regional variants on the form of this greeting; the version provided here is that heard most commonly in the Agbarho village-group area: Urhobo wa do! Ogbe wa do! Ekru wa do! Ilogunlogun! Mi si agwarhe!
10. The iphri not only tells its owner where lost belongings may be, but also, in cases of theft, it actually has the power to punish the transgressor. To steal from an odiphri is dangerous, for the iphri's retribution is usually severe: permanent disability, social disgrace, and even death have been mentioned as consequences of stealing from an iphriowner. 11. 0. lkime discusses in some detail "the various traditions of war between the neighboring village-groups" in Niger Delta Rivalry: ltsekiri-Urhobo Relations and the European Presence 1884-1936(New York: Humanities Press, 1969), p. 12. R. E. Bradbury's list of the origins of Urhobo village-groups contains myriad allusions to feuds, battles, and the resulting fragmentations; The Benin Kingdom and the Edo-Speaking Peoples of South-Western Nigeria (London: International African Institute, 1957), pp. 130-31. See also J. W. Hubbard, The Sobo of the Niger Delta (Zaria: Gaskiya Corp., 1948), pp. 118-20 and passim for more detailed information about Urhobo warfare. P. E. Leis, in Enculturation and Cultural Exchange in an ljaw Community (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1962), p. 41, notes that in the neighboring Western Ijo experience,"The ward ... was the principal segment which participated in feuds with comparable units of other villages, though extensiveness of kinship ties made it appear at times as though whole villages were fighting at the same time." In a conversation in January 2001, Bruce Onobrakpeya characterized life in Urhoboland 150 to 200 years ago as "essentially a medieval arrangement" whereby members of a particular village-group had absolute allegiance to the local ovie and his coleaders. Once outside their home area, their lives were at risk. 12. Especially provocative are the land disputes that result from the activities of the petroleum industry. In the search for oil, the relatively unpopulated areas that once served as buffer zones between developed lands can suddenly become valuable, leading to long and expensive court cases and sometimes to violence. 13. Hubbard, The Sobo of the Niger Delta, p. 230. Hubbard's use of the word "edjo" in connection with iphri is misleading; see introduction chapter above for a detailed consideration of this term. 14. lbeghe, h'Igbehe, h'Igbehe Me ze rie no, lbeghe, h'Igbehe, h'Igbehe Ivri me! 15. See appendix I below for a sample of such verses and commentary on the literary nuances they express. 16. In the Urhobo weekly cycle, every fourth day (edewo) is a day of rest, and it is on this day that most offerings are made, to iphri as well as to other spiritual forces. In the case of iphri, these regular offerings usually consist of the two staples of Urhobo food for spirits: a locally produced gin (udi) and riverbed chalk (oorhe). A particularly conscientious owner also gives his image small portions of his own diet. A more elaborate serving usually occurs once a year, when the owner invites all the odiphri in his ward to join in a collective serving. On this occasion a dog is usually sacrificed to the iphri. 17. See appendix I below.
Cat. 38 Statue for male aggression (iphri) Wood, pismeitt. H.58 cm. Collection Afrika Museum,Berg en Dal,The Netherlands
An iphri in the collection of the Afrika Museum, Berg en Dal, shares close affinities to the Orhokpokpo example owned by Chief Erhiaghanamo of Orhokpokpo. Here the torso of the rider terminates at the waist, from which the body of the beast rises. The flat, tapering ears at the front of the beast are grasped by the hands of the rider, as in the Orhokpokpo example. In the Ughelli case the ears are internally faceted; here the artist seems to pay much more attention to surface detail. In this same vein, the beast-mouth of the Ughelli piece is part of a complete face form, with eyes and nose worked in conjunction with teeth-dominated mouth. Such features are markedly absent in both the Orhokpokpo and Berg en Dal examples, where teeth and open mouth extend from the front of the beast, with smoothly swelling "forehead above.
Obtaining an lphri Because it had been troubling me; it came to me in dreams. — Enavwonevwe Utemu on being asked why he had acquired an iphri Oto-Edo, Ughienvwe village-group December 1971 If your iphri is not troubling you, it will be quiet at your side. — Obiesi Ukakpo Okparabe town, Okparabe village-group January 1972 The process through which one actually
serve it, for it can turn on him if he is not
obtains an iphri is worth careful examina-
strong enough to control it.
tion, for inherent to this process are
At this stage the patron contacts the artist. The negotiation is initially very for-
nuances about both its form and the culture that created it. When trouble comes to a man, he
mal, and in fact it is unlikely that artist and patron will be good friends: one precondi-
often consults a diviner for a diagnosis. If
tion for a successful patron-artist relation-
the diviner decides that the problem is
ship is a certain degree of distance, since
caused by an iphri, he will recommend
in making the iphri the artist is said to lib-
that his patron have one carved. Nearly
erate the patron from serious personality
every stage of the commission rests in the
problems. In these circumstances, neu-
hands of the diviner. The first choice to be
trality or anonymity is preferable to close
made is that of the artist. Usually the
friendship. The transaction follows a pre-
patron submits possible names, artists he knows; with these suggestions as guid-
scribed convention: the patron initially
ance, the diviner decides who should do
and one bottle of locally manufactured
the work. The aesthetic is determined as a combination of the patron's choice, the
gin. The artist then asks the patron to
diviner's choice, and the guidance of div-
which has been determined in the
patron's discussions with the diviner.
brings the artist a small amount of money
describe the intended style of the piece,
Similarly, the overall form is derived largely from divination. Certain elements
Receiving the Image
are constant: multiple legs, the teeth-
Once the object is carved, its transfer
flanked mouth, and the visual concept of
from artist to patron, with the diviner as
beast-with-rider-above. Other elements
intermediary, is a most important moment,
can be determined individually: the form
vividly demonstrating the high levels of
of the figure above, the appearance of
aggressive power inherent in the iphri.
birds and other supporting animals, faces
The artist informs his patron that he has
in low relief below.
completed the work; the patron in turn
The size of the image must also be
alerts the diviner that the moment of
determined. Usually this will depend on
transfer is at hand. The artist delivers the
the patron's resources, but wealth is not
finished work to the diviner, who hides it
the sole determinant. As explained at
in his house until the patron comes to
Efru, "If a 'small' man [i.e., one of low
receive it. The new odiphri (iphri-owner)
social status] has a large iphri, then it
does not come alone; he summons many
would cause him trouble." A man obtain-
men to accompany him—brothers and
ing an iphri must not overstep his ability to
other close relatives, his sons if they are
Cat. 39 Statue for male aggression (iphri) Wood, piynent,fiber, reptile skin. H.63.5 cm. Private Collection This iphri is not of Urhobo manufacture; it is, rather from the western Ijo, neighbors to the south. Along with two pieces collected by Robin Horton for the Nigerian Museum, Lagos, and a third piece by the same artist seen in the Western Ijo entre* of Patani in 1972, they form a particularly succinct substyle of Western Ijo art for aggression. The Western Ijo—the Urhobo's neighbors to the south—term their image efiri, a word cognate to iphri in form and function as well as taxonomy. In this work, a human figure, complete from torso up, rises out of the four-legged beast-figure below. With arms stretched forward, he grasps the body of a horned animal of indeterminate type that stands atop the front of the teeth-mouth configuration. Facing outward on both sides of the central figure stand single figures playing tall, cylindrical drums held tightly between their flexed legs. With block-like unadorned legs, the beastmouth is exceptionally clearly presented; its flanking canines extend just barely beyond the limits of the mouth itself.
Cat. 40 Statue for male aggression (iphri) Wood. H.47 CM. Danklc Grassi
grown, friends living in his ward. He
transfer by counting from one to nine:
spreads the news that he is about to
ovo! ive! erha! ene1 iyorin! esan! ighwre!
become an odiphri, in effect issuing a
erere! irhirin! At each number the two
challenge to all other iphri owners in the
men tug to and fro, struggling over pos-
community. That challenge will immediate-
session of the object. Tension mounts.
ly be answered: all the iphri owners in
The critical moment comes at number
town now gather outside the diviner's
nine, irhirin, because of a pun upon the
compound. Brandishing swords and
word urhirirhirin," which means "for ever
spears, and wearing medicines for war,
and ever"; the diviner's pronunciation of
they sing the praises of warfare.
the word here lies somewhere between
Meanwhile, inside the diviner's house, patron and diviner face each other. The
the two. As the diviner says "nine," he releases the iphri into the hands of the
patron kneels before the diviner; the divin-
owner. The count to nine should also be
er holds the image in his hands and initi-
considered in terms of the Urhobo
ates the process of transfer by thrusting
method of reckoning the period of human
the iphri forward into the hands of its new
gestation, in terms of nine lunar months.
owner. While both are still holding the
In that light the number nine assumes life-
object, the diviner starts the litany of
giving qualities, and so by extension, in
counting out the "months," the diviner metaphorically "gives birth" to the image
gathered outside the diviner's house with the expressed intention of capturing the
and hands it to the patron at its moment
iphri. Informants tell stories of the complex
of "birth." Remembering that the very con-
ruses that a new odiphri will use to evade
cept of and need for iphri are directly tied to what one does and does not say at one's own moment of birth, the circle
his "enemies": while sending one group of friends out through the main entrance of
becomes complete. The newly carved
causing a commotion to divert the men
image becomes a new birth, indeed even
outside, he will pass unobserved out a
a reincarnation of the aggressive aspects
side door or window, crossing town on
of one's soul.
back paths to reach home unobserved.
Once the image is in the hands of the
the diviner's house, shouting and generally
Once home, he consecrates the image.
new owner, the time has come for him to prove his newly acquired aggression.
At first he will not place it within his
With his male friends and relatives gath-
bush for seven days, during which the
house; instead it remains hidden in the
ered tightly around him, he runs a gauntlet
new owner will brag about his newly
of the men of his community, who have
obtained aggressive powers.
Fig. 38 This iphri was made in the Ijo community of Amassuoma, a neighboring community to the south of the Urhobo. Now in the British Museum (1949.AF.46.188) its provenance comes from comparison with a similar one in the Nigerian Museum, Lagos that was collected by Robin Horton in the 1950s.
Cat. 41 Statue for male aggression (efiri) Western Ijo, Nigeria Wood, paint. H.64.8 cm. The Metropolitan Museum ofArt,The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Matthew T. Mellon Foundation Gift, 1960.(1978.412.404)
Cat. 42 Statue for male aggression (iphri) Wood, piament,encrustation. H.76.2 cm. Toby and Barry Hecht
How the Urhobo People See the World through Art TANURE OJAIDE
In the African world,the art and life ofa people symbiotically reflect each other. This is very true ofUrhobo people, whose art expresses the totality oflife as they live and understand it. Their art communicates their beliefs, their world view,and their understanding ofhuman existence. It is a metaphor for and reflects all aspects oftheir lives. The Urhobo People
The Urhobo in their present environment in the Niger Delta are thought to be an amalgam of different waves of migrating groups along with an indigenous group that absorbed them. The main group migrated from the Edo region, where they had settled in a space called "Aka"(associated with Benin). They had been forced to migrate at different points during the tyrannical Ogiso dynasty, in about the thirteenth century. Oral histories and myths are full ofstories of Urhobo people being used for human sacrifice by the obas, the rulers ofBenin,and they eventually fled, by land and river, through Abraka, Ologbo,along the Niger, and other routes. At least one group migrated from the Ijo area through the Amasuoma clan. The vocabulary of the Urhobo language also suggests some connection to the Igbo, perhaps this period of migration along the Niger involved proximity to the western Igbo group ofUkwuani.Onigu 째rite has prepared a detailed historiography ofthe Urhobo,taking into account J. W.Hubbard's work during the colonial period,J. U. Egharevba's study ofBenin and neighboring groups,and Obaro lkime's study ofthe Niger-Delta peoples. According to Otite and from personal observation, the Urhobo are republican in character-a euphemism for their individualism, which even today makes them "rebel against autocracy." A common Urhobo saying,"We8her'ovwe?"(Do you feed me?),registers their beliefin self-reliance. This attitude is inextricably linked to their concepts ofhonor and pride. They are an industrious people who have been successful as migrants inside and outside Nigeria. While they have a sense ofethnic belonging, they are less cohesive than many other Nigerian ethnic groups.Their many dialects are not always mutually comprehensible (the Effurun and Okpe dialects, for example, cannot be understood by most other Urhobo people,especially those in the Agbarho,Agbon and Ughelli areas),and they share neither a common festival nor a single ruler. They lack the unified spirit, then,ofsuch peoples as the Bini and the Itsekiri. Despite their independent spirit and their fragmentation as a group, however, the Urhobo are communal in many ways. They still maintain common ponds and farming areas,for example, among other forms ofsocial cooperation. The common festivals ofsome village-groups also cater to the spiritual interest ofthe people.The practice ofthe extended family tradition still continues. The Urhobo see the world as divided into two: the physical, natural world and the metaphysical, invisible world ofancestors, spirits, gods,and witches. In Urhobo thought, the physi-
Cat. 43 Female figure Wood,pigment. H. 120 cm. Collection Murray Frum,Toronto
cal world and the spirit world contrast with and parallel each other. Many believe that illnesses derive from transgressions ofsome natural order or rule, so that when someone falls sick, they consult not a doctor but a diviner. Sacrifices and herbal prescriptions are usually recommended as cures. To the traditional Urhobo,death is rarely natural-there is always a spiritual explanation for any misfortune. Since spiritual transgressions have karmic repercussions, people try their best to live spiritually clean lives.A woman who flirts will confess to"stepping outside" her matrimonial home;ifshe doesn't,according to Urhobo belief,she may die in childbirth. Her sins may also be visited on her children, who can fall sick or even die. Witches who do evil will somehow suffer the repercussions oftheir acts. Urhobo peoplejoin religious sects such as Igbe,or use protective magical medicines, to address their physical salvation as well as their spiritual one. Village groups organize festivals to exorcise evil spirits and ensure communal health and prosperity. The Urhobo follow many forms oftraditional religion,especially ancestor worship,religious sects like Igbe,and varieties ofshrine worship(orhan,figs. 17,26). They have no single faith but do believe in a Supreme God, who can be approached directly and through smaller gods and ancestors. In Urhobo traditional belief, before people are born they make choices about what they will be in this world,and then they live accordingly.The ideal life,they hold,should involve good health, many children, prosperity,and longevity,and they pray for these "gifts" with kola nuts on religious and social occasions. Traditionally the Urhobo believe in reincarnation, an unending cycle oflife and death.People are born,they die,they are born again.That beliefleads to the sense ofa need to do good things,since evil will not escape punishment. Also, those who are good in this life will be rewarded in the next one,and those who do evil will suffer punishment in their next life too. Many deceased old people, though,remain in the afterlife as ancestors. These spiritual beliefs underlie the intense attention paid to burial ceremonies in Urhoboland. A good burial upholds the pride and honor ofthe family; more important,it helps the deceased to make a better choice in his or her return to this life.
Fig. 39 The spokesman (otota) of the Okpe village group wearing ibiakoresi, teeth-of-bush-pig, with a top hat. Orerokpe 1969.
Art and Related Concepts
In order to understand how the Urhobo people see the world through art,certain basic concepts need to be defined.Four interconnected terms come quickly to mind:akpo and erivwin,edjo and oma."Akpo" is a loaded term in Urhobo philosophy; it means "life," a spiritual phenomenon. The Urhobo go so far as to say owho eakpo(person-in-this world)to designate the living. Akpo is the diametrical counterpoint oferivwin-the spirit or supernatural, and also a place, the spirit world-and of ughwu, death; hence owho erivwin (dead person, ghost, or spirit). This shows the close connection between the physical and spiritual worlds. "Akpo" also means"world," the human,physical world we live in. This definition embraces culture, society, life-style, and other sociocultural aspects ofthe Urhobo life. The older Urhobo talk ofakpo aware and akpo oke na,the old days and the modern ones-the old being generally associated with the authentic and the modern/new with corrupting changes from outside-first colonization and then contemporary influences. Thus the title of this essay might as well read "How the Urhobo See Life through Art," since "akpo," meaning "world," also means "life," or even "customs." Life in this world means human existence. Living in space and time results in human experience.By"akpo"the Urhobo express the physical and spiritual nature oflife as well as its entire sociocultural aspect. In order for the patriarchal Urhobo to live a normal life, which demands good health,long life, children,and prosperity, he attempts to ward offthe evil forces that originate from witches and evil spirits. He knows that he has made his choices, but most people seem to believe that their choices are positive, and that only envious and evil persons and spirits want them not to 74
Cat. 44 Male figure Wood, pigment. H.94 cm. Pace Primitive Gallery,New York Cat. 45 Female figure Wood, pigment. H. 97.2 cm. Pace Primitive Gallery, New York
Cat. 47 Statue for male aggression (iphri) Wood, poment. H.40.6 cm. Birmingham Museum ofArt(AL), Gift of Mrs. Margaret Handler-Pennington in honor of her mothcr, Mrs. Regina KirchoffMandrel!
Cat. 46 Statue for male aggression (iphri) Wood. H.68 cm. Private Collection
realize their goals. To counteract evil and crivwin, they attempt to fortify themselves against negative forces, which they believe coexist with positive ones. In this effort they have ebo(medicines)and edjo(shrines)to protect them. Usually the medicines and shrines involve oma or ekaro, artistic creations, usually sculptures, invested with spiritual power."Oma" traditionally means something molded out ofclay,sometimes fired,sometimes not; today, however,the word seems to be used all over Urhoboland to designate sculpture more generically, that is, whether carved or molded. An ekaro,on the other hand,is always carved out of wood. In either case, the psychical represents the spiritual, the humanmade represents a divine manifestation. To traditional Urhobo people,then,art and ritual go together. Annual sacrifices and festivals are held all over Urhoboland to exorcise evil spirits from communities and to effect a renewal and rebirth ofthe community.These rites take place during the rainy season-a symbolic cleansing. They reassert the values that give meaning to the Urhobo as a group, maintaining not only the group's coherence but also the balance that allows the individual to remain free even while bound to a community. There is good standing ofboth community and individual in both the physical and the spiritual worlds. The duality ofthings is also affirmed in art related to ritual. The words "edjo" and "oma"are used interchangeably; oma, however, is wood or clay that when sculpted becomes the home of edjo, god or spirit. Oma and edjo are matter and spirit, a duality comparable to life/birth and death, human and spirit. In Urhobo cosmology there is a correspondence of these different forces: nature in the form ofwood or clay is infused with life and spirit, in a consecrating ritual. Urhobo medicine men and sculptors perform certain rituals before a tree is cut down or its bark is removed. Urhobo "Art": Ugliness as Beauty
The Urhobo traditionally do not see their "art"as beautiful,although in dealing with art they do have aesthetic criteria in mind-they recognize excellence in artistry and craft. The value and function oftheir so-called art, however, lies in its role in the performance ofritual for the wellbeing ofthe individual and the community.In fact, when it comes to sculptures and other artistic creations related to rituals, Urhobo see art as ugly. People are compared to oma and edjo to denote their ugliness. The Udje dance-song tradition often alludes to oma to describe people. The song "Aruviere" tells that"Akara oshare/osho8ba8baragba"(They carved a man/with an erect penis)to attract suitors to Aruviere,an ugly young woman.The statue assumes life and demands Aruviere for himself; the spirit invoked in the wood has taken a life ofhis own.In another song,"Rherheyere,""Edjo eUrhobo rhie Evwere re"(An Urhobo spirit has entered Ijoland). Rherheyere is an ugly spirit-carving and the Ijo people warn him that should he visit their town again, they will sacrifice him to their god because ofhis bad looks. Certain erha,edjo,and ema(shrines and sculptures),such as Ogbaurhie of Otughienvwe,Igbewha ofOtokutu,and Echeha ofEkakpamre,are used as symbols ofugliness. The Urhobo show a certain ambiguity about the edjo, which they invest with divinity, and look to for protection, but at the same time consider ugly. According to Memerume ofEdjophe, "Omalekpe," that is,"A mold is still sand." Even the divine is fallible, in other words, because the mold can dissolve back into sand,just as, over time, clay or wood will disintegrate too. Ironically, humans outlive their oma and edjo,and are always re-creating their symbols ofdivine manifestation. Weakness as well as power,then, are enshrined in the people's god. There is an Urhobo saying,"Esia amwa n'edjo,edjo k'ubrurhe"(Ifyou remove the cloth from the edjo,it becomes a mere piece ofwood). The Urhobo dress their edjo (spirits) in either ukpebo (white) or ibosu or ododo (red). White usually represents the gods or spirits called edjo-ame, which support peace, fertility, and good health. Red on the shrine designates more aggressive gods or spirits,such as Iphri, Egba,or other
warrior gods. The priests or servers ofa shrine will splash the blood ofa sacrificed animal on the cloth used to cover the shrine, and say that the cloth used in dressing a god is never washed before it falls apart and tears off Warrior shrines like those ofEgba, iphri, and Ovughere show the Urhobo as a people who see life as fraught with hostile forces and perils, and who accordingly resort to spiritual and supernatural powers in seeking a peaceful life. Significantly,art becomes a metaphor in Urhoboland for the relationship between the inside and the outside. Whether the sculpture ofa god or ancestor is made of wood or clay, its potency lies in the spirit that resides within it. The inside matters more than the outside ofthings. This sums up the general Urhobo description of people, irrespective of their physical stature, as strong; meaning that they are mystically fortified with ebo,or medicines.This may also relate to a preference for internal beauty ofcharacter rather than the superficial beauty ofthe skin. Conclusion
The Urhobo people use art as a metaphor for their existential struggles. Their various ema and edjo elicit their fears and hopes in multiple ways. Their art suggests that they see themselves as living in two worlds-the physical and metaphysical. These two worlds both contrast with and run parallel to each other. Urhobo art is a moral medium; its shrines and icons of worship argue for doing good. The Urhobo see the world as sanctioning a moral imperative: those who do good will be rewarded and those who do evil will be punished,either in this world or the next. This makes people humble and encourages them to do good.The Urhobo see the world in terms ofdualities: physical and spiritual, good and bad, life and death. Yet these binary divisions are not rigid. In folktales, for example, humans and spirits meet,each entering the other's world. The Urhobo see the ideal human existence as communal, because ofthe solidarity, support, and social cohesion this kind oflife supplies. To them there is strength in numbers-in fact they boast about having large families. Communities and familiesjoin in maintaining shrines, where they perform sacrifices for their collective well-being. The individual is bonded to a community-yet is also separate from it. People have their own medicines and keep their own shrines CO protect their interests as individuals,just as family or community edjo bring cohesiveness and solidarity to the group. The Urhobo see the world as full ofdangers that must be fought with supernatural forces if they are to have happy lives. The communal Egba, Iphri, and Ovughere shrines,among others,show them coming together as a group to be strong and be better able to fight offaggression. The Urhobo maintain a certain ambiguity toward the divine and the supernatural. The edjo is at once a savior and a symbol ofugliness. The divine,in being invested in wood or clay(which can disintegrate quite fast in the humid Urhobo climate), is fallible. Humans invest divinity in wood or clay by consecrating it; that divinity can also be removed. Humans commission new gods when they so desire. Urhobo art communicates ideals of human existence: good health, long life, prosperity, and many children to perpetuate the family name. It also communicates the Urhobo love of beauty or handsomeness, dignity, wealth, and high status, among other qualities. Though the Urhobo community is a patriarchy in which men enjoy more privileges than women,their art registers women's importance.In masquerade performances,the mother-of-the-spirits(oni-edjo)comes in to perform only after the children-of-the-spirits(emo-edjo) warm the arena. Urhobo art promotes the balance between male and female, parent and child. Ritual and art go together in the lives of Urhobo people. The relationships among humans, ancestors, and gods, and also among human beings, are reciprocal and aim for cordiality. Ancestors and gods guide and guard the living, who in return offer them service and sacrifices, especially at festival times-mashed yam(emare), bones,and the blood ofsacrificed animals.As the 78
Urhobo say,"Erue emu k'owho k'arie"(One should be appreciative ofkindness). Another Urhobo saying goes,"Ukpe te, ke rue emu eukpe"(When the time comes,you do what is due). In other words, there is a time for everything; there is an order pervading the universe that should not be broken. The edjo come out at their time, and sacrifices are performed before the erha(shrines)at the appropriate season. This art suggests a people who see the world hierarchically, for the art itself is hierarchical: at festival times,for example,there is a definite order among oni-edjo,ose-emo(father ofchildren, or ancestors), and ini-ide (ancestral mothers). The oni-edjo (also called inene-ode or mother-ofus-all)comes last in masquerade performances. The Urhobo see the world as intricately connected by parallel, reciprocating, and mutually coexisting forces. The gods,spirits,and ancestors need the living as the living need them.This is a metaphor for life: no single person is self-sufficient; everyone is complemented by others. Urhobo art affirms faith in the communal and cohesive lives ofits people,struggling with existential problems with help from fellow human beings and the supernatural. Collaboration is a prerequisite for life. Urhobo art reflects the people's concept oflife in its totality.
Hu8e,Fearsome Beauy:Statuagfor the Edjo PERKINS FOSS
THE LARGEST, MOST POWERFUL EXAMPLES ofUrhobo imagery are over-life-size statues, form-
ing families of ancestor spirits-the founding men and women ofa community whose powers and fame were such that in time they were elevated to the status ofedjo. Looming in darkened shrines, they are hidden from public view for all but a few days ofthe year(figs. 40-44; cats. 1, 12, 34, 43-45, 50-52). These statues reflect a contradiction inherent in much of Urhobo art: they are held to be both fearsome (to mortals) and beautiful (to the spirit world). Examples from Ovu, Isiokolo, Eghwere, Edjekota,and Otughienvwe offer insight into their artists and patrons, their visual drama and religious meaning. Both oral tradition and written sources suggest that the Agbarho and Agbon area once had more ofthese shrine groups than any other part ofUrhoboland. Between 1850 and 1925,this area prospered in palm-oil commerce, especially with the coastal Itsekiri, and communities in the Agbarho-Agbon area-Ovu, Isiokolo, Oghrerhe, and Ughrughelli-were substantially wealthier than much ofthe rest ofUrhoboland, making substantial artistic commissions possible. It was during these years of prosperity that most of the figures were carved. Today these shrines are rarely maintained. The fledgling Niger Delta Cultural Centre at Agbarha-Otor has outlined plans to commission contemporary versions ofthe shrines to house statues offamous Urhobo of today.
Fig. 40 Statue depicting Owedjebo, founder hero of Oghrerhe, 1969.
The Spirit of the Town
Individuals may have affinities to more than one edjo: they may be told, usually by a diviner, that they are being troubled by this or that edjo in the town,and will be advised to provide it with regular offerings. At the same time, however, one particular edjo is usually recognized as
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Fig. 41 Shrine building (oguan) for edjo Urhie. Oto-ughienvwe 1969.
Maternity figure Wood,pigment H.45.7cm. Toby and Barry Hecht
Finial figure of man Copper alloy, cloth, pigment H.23 071. Private Collection
the spirit ofthe town(edjo l'ovwodo).'It is in honor ofthis spirit that the artistic expression ofthe edjo receives its fullest manifestation,in the form ofassemblages ofup to a dozen carved statues housed in a single shrine building(figs. 40,41,43).2 An elaborate hierarchy oftitled priests and priestesses are the spiritual leaders ofthe cult. The community stages large annual festivals in honor ofthe edjo r'ovwodo, which include elaborate dances often accompanied by masquerade performances,lavish meals,and extensive displays ofwealth. The Range of Edjo Imagery
Edjo sculptures assume a variety of physical forms and are made in a variety of media. Certain edjo are abstract: in the southern community ofArhavwarien,an accumulation ofbent sticks forms the physical nucleus ofthe edjo known as Ogeyi,a water spirit.3 Here crooked pieces of wood,fragments ofmangrove roots,and unusually shaped branches ofmany types oftree are piled in a heap in a smallshrine building.These bentsticks are seen as works ofart made not by humans but by the spirits. Fishermen are the mostcommon devotees ofthis cult,since it is they who suffer at the hands ofOgeyi. They collect the bent sticks that entangle their paddles and nets and bring them to the shrine as gifts to the spirit,asking for safejourneys and bountiful harvests in return. Other edjo receive physical manifestations in metal. In the town ofEghwu,devotees bring pieces ofmetal that they find in the course offarming or fishing.The resulting accumulations82
Cat. 50 Female figure Wood,pigment. H.221 011. Private Collection, France
Fig. 42 Shrine for the edjo Ovughere. Ovu Inland, 1968.
ranging from ornate bells with human faces, in the so-called Lowcr Niger style, to rusty nailsare held to be messages from the spirit world, physical signs oflife in the other world (figs. 13, 25-27; Cats. 18, 20-22, 25-27, 285).4 Certain edjo made ofclay are known as edjo re amare,"spirits in molded form"(fig. 41). These images, usually seated human figures, may well be a reworking ofthe clay-modeling traditions so well developed by both the Benin peoples to the north and certain Igbo groups to the east.' Wooden statuary for the spirits, known as edjo re akare,"spirits in carved form," bring a dramatic presence to the abstract concept ofspiritual powers. Housed in small,enclosed buildings, and carefully positioned to provide maximal visual impact, these figures rank among the greatest Urhobo art. The Military Themes of Edjo Art
Pervading most wooden sculptures for the edjo is the theme of martial prowess. The figures hold swords and cutlasses, clubs and spears; they wear a variety of medicines and other accouterments designed to bring success in war,and the songs and praise poetry associated with them make martial imagery their most recurrent theme(fig. 40); and in the staged reenactments that take place at annual festivals in honor ofthe edjo, warriors bear weaponry that is strikingly similar to those that appear in the works of art (fig. 51).Praise names and songs of honor, recited upon occasions ofserving, allude to these spirits' superhuman abilities in times of war. A dramatic example comes from the Agbarho town ofOghrerhe, in conjunction with the serving of Owedjebo(figs. 37-38).These verses supplied by ChiefArubi Omamohwo characterize the edjo as an invincible hero,immune to physical danger: When we wage war, Owedjebo stands up! Stands up in a dignified manner;Orindjerhe goes in front. Leader-of-the-warriors follows him,following him,going to the battle. Owedjebo stays at the back; he has his sword; he has his cutlass. When,at the moment ofconfrontation,standing ready in a dignified manner, Owedjebo stands up! The enemy shoots: kpe, kpe, kpe; 84
Fig. 43 Statue depicting Owedjebo, founder hero of Oghrerhe, 1969.
Owedjebo stands up! Thinking him a real person who can be shot, not hitting him! When all shooting is over, all our people who all this while Were lying on the ground start shooting over there. They shoot over there to the end! Owedjebo returns to his house; We rejoice: Hooray! Hooray! To wage war and to win, that is all.' Spirits of the Warrior-Founders
Two central-Urhobo communities, located some ten miles apart on either side ofthe Warni River, harbored magnificent groupings ofedjo imagery.In both the Agbon town ofOvu Inland' and the Agbarho town ofOghrerhe,elaborate sculptural ensembles were seen in 1966 and 1968.8 The shrines were maintained in honor ofthe spiritual forces that imbued the founders ofeach village with invincible powers(figs.40,42,43). The founders are remembered both as families and as warriors. Within the confines ofsmall shrine buildings, images of men, women,children, and attendants stand poised. Each sculptural ensemble is divided into two distinct groups.One is male,and alludes to military imagery(fig.42). This shrine is sited near the center oftown. The other is female,and alludes to the feminine powers ofprocreation.The shrine stands at the outskirts oftown near a small body ofwater.The two shrines complement each other,and are firmly linked in both sculptural style and metaphoric intent. The physical and religious focus ofthe edjo is the shrine house(oguan redjo), the site ofdaily, weekly,and, most important,yearly rites ofconsecration. The building is shaped as a single small rectangular room,about eight feet deep and twelve feet long. It has three windowless mud walls and,on the longer side, an entrance facade divided by two structural columns into three approximately equal sections(figs. 41,42). The outer two sections are partially enclosed by low walls,leaving an entrance in the center. In this entrance,and in the spaces above the low walls, hang screens ofraffia(omwen),which conceal the interior ofthe building and,most important,establish a sacred barrier, marking the interior ofthe shrine house as an inviolable space. Interior and exterior, then, are clearly separated,and the channels ofcommunication from one to the other are carefully prescribed.The low mud walls form opaque barriers at the lower and outer areas ofthe facade;the raffia screens, however,only partially shield the upper registers to the sides and the entire center section. Thus is established an important void-solid relationship, in which the full bodies ofthe central figures stand behind translucent vegetation while only the heads ofthe figures to the sides can be discerned.' The edjo imagery at Ovu Inland appeared in two ensembles: the male-oriented warrior family known as Ovughere(fig.4o)and the female spirit known as Omwe.The Ovughere shrine stood near the center oftown on the main thoroughfare, at the edge of the market area (afieki). Within this building were nine wooden statues depicting Ovughere and his heroic followers. The Omwe group was housed in a small shrine at the edge oftown.Here,in a quiet grove adjacent to a small tributary ofthe Warn River,stood five statues, which recalled the fertile strength ofOvughere's The display ofedjo imagery at Oghrerhe was similar. Here-some ten miles away from Ovu Inland,south ofthe Warn River- was a male group,called Owedjebo,ofeleven figures(figs. 40,43). It stood in a visually controlling position at the intersection of the town's two major roads. Its female counterpart, Oneimo (literally meaning "mother of children"), bordered another small tributary ofthe Warn at the edge ofthe community. The Owedjebo family members assume rigid postures as they flank the central image of the founding father.Some stand with arms held stiffly at their sides, while others assume more active stances: soldiers hold sword and cutlass, while a nursing mother cradles a child in her arms.There 86
is no physical interaction between one figure and another; they seem to exist first as individuals, performing specific roles, who have been brought together in a family context. Each face has three basic components:elongated swelling forehead,angular nose,and jutting jaw terminated by two rows of bared teeth. On the visage ofOwedjebo himself,double-tapered forehead keloids (iwu) add rhythm to the sweep of the forehead (for comparable examples see cats. 34, 51). Evenly spaced across the upper facial panel, they set it offfrom the smooth planes beneath the eyes. The stylized, exaggerated swelling ofthe upper chest emphasizes the image's physical might. From the pectorals downward the torso takes the shape of a barrel, without detailing except for a prominent navel. Coatings of white chalk(oorhe), widespread throughout southern Nigeria as a magical sign ofpurity and otherworldliness, elevate the images to a sacred realm. Each figure, as well as the side and rear walls ofthe shrine house, are coated with a liquefied layer ofthis substance. The chalk unifies the works ofart with each other and with their background,and the overall whiteness maximizes the luminosity ofthe interior space.
3. 4. 5.
The term ovwodo refers to a community of any size but of a permanent nature, that is, all communities except for temporary farming or fishing settlements. R. E. Bradbury, in The Benin Kingdom and the Edo-Speaking Peoples of South-Western Nigeria (London: International African Institute, 1957), p. 103, notes that the term "edjo" itself "often refers specifically to 'wooden images.'" This all-inclusive usage of the term, however, seems to be a simplification. Illustrated in Perkins Foss, "Urhobo Statuary for Spirits and Ancestors," African Arts 9, no. 4(February 1976) A. G. Omodeko includes a careful study of one particular cult, Urhienu, as it appears in Eghwu and neighboring communities in The Cult of Urhienu Divinity in Urhoboland (lbadan: Department of Religious Studies, University of lbadan, 1980). See U. Beier, African Mud Sculpture.(Cambridge University Press, 1963), P. Ben-Amos,"Symbolism in Olokun Mud Art." African Arts 6, no. 4 (Summer 1973): 28-31, H. M. Cole, Mbari, Art and Life among the Owerri lgbo (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982), and M. G. Anderson and P. M. Peek, Ways of the Rivers: Arts and Environment of the Niger Delta (Los Angeles: Fowler Museum of Cultural History, University of California, Los Angeles, 2002) for examples of clay sculpture from Urhobo and neighboring populations. This particular narration in praise of the edjo Owedjebo was recorded on audiotape by the author at Oghrerhe on June 3, 1969. It was selected for the present study because of its particularly rich and vivid portrayal of the military associations inherent in this type of edjo lore. The translation was provided by William Okorotete with the kind help of the narrator, Chief Omamohwo: 1 Ede chephio ofovwi 13 Owedjebo mudia 2 Owedjebo de vwre 14 Ke vwo ro rohwo den ra cha as 3 Mudia gedegba vwe tiyire 15 Asa a 4 Orindjerhe ko kobaro 16 Sioboyi jobi sa renu 5 Olotu ko vwo kpaho 17 Ihwo ravware rhasieye 6 Ovwo kphaore kekpo ofovwi na 18 Ri shevwerhe toto 7 Owedjebo ko kobuko 19 Ke rha as oboyi 8 Ovoshue roye ovada roye 20 Emerha as oboyi kpa! 9 Ede te udogu 21 Owedjebo ko chuwevwi roye 10 Ewophiye tiyi re 22 Kavware ghogho wuwu wewu 11 Owedjebo mudia re 23 Ephiotovwe kparobo 12 Oboyi as kpe kpe kpe 24 Kene The ending statement, "kene" (line 24), is a standard Urhobo expression to mark the completion of a monologue. Among the text's various nuances, it is especially noteworthy for its dramatic concurrence with the physical features of the actual statuary. In lines 2 and 4, for example, Owedjebo "rises" and "stands in a dignified manner"; the statues, posed with slightly flexed legs, were characterized by the elders of Oghrerhe as assuming similar stances. When the village prepares for battle, Owedjebo holds weaponry (sword and cutlass, line 8) identical to those held by the sculpted warriors. The shrine building for Owedjebo, in which the images stand, is often called "his house" (line 21). Many Urhobo towns occupy two separate sites: one at the banks of a river and another as much as ten miles away. The former is designated as the "waterside" component and the latter as the Inland" one. Although once considered branches of one village, the two settlements often develop entirely autonomous identities, as is the case with the Ovu settlements. By 1972, when the author returned to this area, the images were no longer there. The circumstances of their departure are difficult to ascertain with any certainty. Much change was happening here: Christian movements were making headway, younger people were not following the older customs, and European interest in Urhobo art was increasing. If there were a conventional door at the center of the facade, and if the raffia curtains were replaced by solid walls, the sculpture would have no rapport with the outside world. The shrine house would no longer operate as a controlling stage; instead it would become an enclosing box. The delicate balance between open and closed spaces, between the sacred world of the images and the profane world of the viewer, would be lost. As a male, the author was offered only limited access to these distinctly female aspects of Urhobo culture. Photography was not permitted at either of the female shrines presently under discussion.
Cat. 51 Male figure (edjo re akare) Wood, pisment. H. 140 an. Private Collection This male figure assumes the classic Urhobo sculptural pose: half standing, half sitting. It would have been part of a community shrine that depicted the founding family of a town, celebrated their aggressive exploits.
A Pair of Male and Female Statues for the Spirits These huge figures assume the classic Urhobo sculptural pose: half standing, half sitting (see cats. 1, 43, 51, 52). The artist has established a visual tension by exploiting the ambiguity of this posture. Arms bend at the elbows, with upper part flexed backward and forearms angled slightly downward. Torso and chest are rendered with equal tautness and balance. The chest of the male swells almost pneumatically, and is mediated by a single vertical lineage mark that extends from sternum to navel. Below the navel appears a military accouterment: a "belt-for-war" (igbile re ophovwi), a piece of medicinal armor comprising tubes of leather that have been stuffed with herbal ingredients. From the belt hang a number of small, spherical bells, which, in the belt's actual use, ring to communicate with the world of erivwin. On both the male and female figures, a curved, raised ridge extends across the chest from shoulder to shoulder. This is a stylized rendering of the single strand of beads (agigor) worn by members of the ohovwore (plural ehovwore) title society (figs. 7, 8, 21, 55). These beads allude to a more general realm of community leadership and titled power. A small cylindrical bead, known as ophara or obiola, appears at the neck; this too is associated with the ohovwore. At the center of the pectorals is a small medicinal calabash of protective herbal ingredients (ukokorogho) that ensures successful military exploits. In his right hand the warrior would have held a cutlass, a swiftly striking force capable of mortal destruction. In his left hand he held a spear that he thrusts downward toward the earthâ€”aimed not at mortals, then, but as a spiritual message to the powers of the earth. With the linear precision exemplary of the best Urhobo art, the forehead of the female figure sweeps outward in an even curve. The nose has a contrastingly crisp angularity, and at the mouth, two planes meet at an oblique angle to form teeth-revealing lips. Delicate low-relief lineage marks punctuate four discrete areas of the face.
On the back of the neck, three marks join together, and curve outward as they approach the sides. Minute, delicately incised squares activate the surfaces of these marks; a more pronounced central line accentuates each curve. A simpler pair of crescent-shaped marks defines the cheeks, and their upward curves respond to the opposite sweep of the lower jaw. At each temple is a horizontal ridge, segmented by vertical incisions into six compartments. Ceremonial coiffure defines the top and rear sections of the head. Cascading down behind is a triple-tiered form, etched by fine vertical grooves, that extends the outward swell of the head. The upper part of the hairstyle, arranged along the front-to-back axis, is comprised of three gently curving crests, from each of which emerges a sharply pointed tuft. This ensemble of upper tufts and layered rear elements is known as igbeton, and is known to have been worn by women of titled rank in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Cat. 52 Maternity figure Wood, pigment. H. 138 cm. Private Collection
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A8bo8idi: A Vision ofan Urhobo Shrine BRUCE ONOBRAKPEYA
is a study ofa personal shrine. It is one ofthe few pictures that I developed after visiting the Urhobo community ofJesse (also called Idjerhe) which stands on the bank of the Ethiope River near Sapele, a seaport in Delta State. The word a8bo8idi (the name of a legendary war hero) suggests power, and the shrine, like several others in the area, relates to Oloku,a deity offertility and good fortune. Urhobo shrines, like those of their neighbors (the Edo, Ijo, Isoko, and Igbo), are virtual art galleries:each contains an assemblage ofartworks,ranging from sculptures(in metal, wood,and clay) to pottery, textiles, found objects, and paintings (figs. 17, 25 and 64). The priests, who are sometimes also the artists, arrange these works in the shrine, which may be a room or an enclosure in the forest. One man named Edjobeguo, whom I met in the 197os in Ogharefe, a nearby suburb, was both the priest and the carver ofthe figures in his shrine to Urhapele. Shrines, particularly those in enclosures in the forest,are nearly always designed to be viewed from the front and roughly divided into three sections that dovetail into one another. The middle section contains the dominant forms, which may be separated by vertical shafts. Smaller objects in the foreground form the links between the main figures. Objects hang on the back walls, which are usually painted white. The dominant forms in the middle section in A8bo8idi are two mud-sculpture figures; a carved wooden staff with figures at its top; two pots, one containing snail shells; and a vertical wooden rattle with cowries tied to its middle. Vertical staffs (similar to cat. 55) form a kind of AGBOGID1, A PLASTOGRAPH PRINT,
Ceremonial rattle Wood,Cotton cord,seed pods. L.43.5 cm Private Collection
Cat. 56 Bracelet(ukoro) Ivory. D. 17 CM. Private Collection
Cat. 55 Staff (okpo) Wood,chalk. H. 113 cm. Collection Henricus Sz Nina Simonis,Dusseldorf
Cat. 57 Bracelet (ukoro) Ivoy. D.23 CM. Lord Mac Alpine
support for these objects. The first ofthe two main figures bears the paraphernalia ofa chiefor priest. It is bedecked with ritual objects, including gourds containing charms(ukokogho;see similar gourds on the men depicted in cats. 34,41,42,49,51),a colonial bowler hat, bangles (e,gblog ho obo), and an apron(buluku)to which are tied cowries(i8ho)and metal rattles(u8heri8he). The second figure is a soldier brandishing a spear (oshue) and a cutlass (opia). It wears a cap on its head and an elephant tusk (ukoro)(similar to cat. 56) at each ankle. In the foreground of the overall composition are carvings ofthree "hand"(obo)statues worshiped for good fortune. One sits on an enamel plate. Other objects are a rattle(ashwala,similar to cats. 14, 54), kaolin chalk (oorhe), cowries, palm kernels (ibi), a hoe (eghwlo), and smaller objects, which serve as textures welding the larger forms together. Conspicuous in the background assemblage are chicken legs (isbawo echo) and a mirror with a decorated frame. At the top of the painted background is a frieze of objects including figurines and masks. Urhobo shrines,and those from other parts ofthe Niger Delta, are part ofour artistic legacy. They have tremendous influence not only on my prints, paintings, reliefs, and installations but also on the works ofother Nigerian artists as well.
A plastograph print is made by a self-invented intaglio process wherein a plate is treated with an epoxy resin, then printed in three or often four colors See Bruce Onobrakpeya, "Baptism in the Acid Bath," in B. Onobrakreya, The Spirit in Ascent. Agbarha-Otor and Lagos: Ovuomororo Gallery; 1992: 34-41
Color Symbolism in Urhobo Art BRUCE ONOBRAKPEYA
remain indelible in my mind and affect my responses to red objects.They also help me to understand the symbolism ofUrhobo belief and art. Red represents life in this world(akpo),and is a symbol offertility, mystery,and danger. As a child, I served as a bride's attendant(ukopha) to a cousin, Edugo,during her traditional bridal ceremony, or omoteyavwo. For the seven days ofthe ceremony, I was rubbed all over with red from the camwood tree (isene), as was the bride(opha), her mother,and the other ikophe We all shared in the special meals prepared for the "queen." I look back with nostalgia at this rite, which celebrated the coming ofage and fertility: My pictures Opha (19173; cat. 59)and I Love My Two Wives(1982; cat. 61) were inspired by this experience. It was also when I was a child that I first witnessed the Ekene festival, for which my home community ofAgbarha-Otor is famous. The three masquerades were draped in red. Each about forty feet tall,they towered over the sea ofheads that had gathered to watch this fifteen-yearly event. THREE CHILDHOOD ENCOUNTERS WITH THE COLOR RED
Cat. 58 Female figure Wood, pietettt. H.104.2 CM. Walt Disney-Tishman Collection ofAfrican Art
Fig. 44 Brides (opha) parading through town. Orughworun 1972.
The celebration left me with a permanent sense of wonder over the color red, and also fear, which soon reappeared when a red leopard-or a painting ofone,at the entrance to a shrine in a village in the Oke Eruvbi valley-scared me to the point where I ran to my mother for protection. Many years later this experience resurfaced in a picture called Leopard in the Cornfield(1984; cat.6o). My response to red from an early age,although instinctive, is in accord with the general sense of mystery and fear that the Urhobo feel toward the color. In another context, red stands for beauty, dignity, and class. Red beads, including coral, are worn by chiefs and other men, women, and children of high status not just to enhance beauty but to help show where they belong in Urhobo society. One can tell an Urhobo person in a crowd by the predominant red color ofhis or her dress. The orange-brown-red color ofthe deer(orhua)is considered very beautiful; there is a saying that ifan animal is more beautiful than the orhua,it will not be killed for food. Dressed in white (shirt, wrapper, hat, fan, and horsetail fly-whisk) and brandishing a cutlass as the first male child(owanran),I led my father's burial procession.The use ofwhite unmistakably celebrated a life well lived, and marked a final passage from the world ofthe living to that ofthe spirits. In this last journey the deceased, too, is wrapped in a white cloth (okpeibo) before being laid in a coffin. Ifthe corpse must be carried a long distance,a tender shoot ofpalm frond (which is yellowish,a kind of white)is tied to the vehicle. White oorhe(riverbank chalk) is heavy with symbols for the Urhobo. A basic ingredient in the worship ofancestors and other deities, it stands between the living and the spirits. It is used to convey supplications to the supernatural powers as well as to seal blessings. Oorhe is rubbed on the head,face, or the rest ofthe body for spiritual cleansing or as a sign ofjoy. A necklace of white glass beads shows that the wearer has admitted that he or she is rich. This proclamation may be extended to the use ofall-white dress (shirt or blouse, hat, and wrapper) and a white Raleigh Superb bicycle. In contrast, women rub gray-white wood ashes(which has the appearance ofoorhe)all over their bodies as a mark ofextreme mourning. No one I know has ever gone through this ordeal, but it may have been the practice in the olden days. Ashes, however, are generally a symbol of mourning. In a typical Urhobo compound, a strip of white cloth is draped down from a vertical pole topped with an inverted conical basket. This is the symbol for Oghene, the supreme deity. To give spiritual force to a wooden carving, it is painted with oorhe and dressed with a piece of white cloth from waist down. The ugo, the white-feathered eagle, is seen in the sky at a particular time ofthe year. When sighted, it is hailed with the words U8o afuree(Ugo white all over). This incantation expresses a wish for the attainment ofthe highest state of being. The expressions 째for째(It is white)and Ovware (It is red) are interchangeable as descriptions ofripe fruit. Yellow clay(enakpa), mined like oorhe at the riverbank, is associated with beauty. It is traditionally used to paint houses,or isjoined with black and red to paint masks. A range of colors is considered black (ubiebi) in Urhobo usage and symbolism: black as in charcoal, dark gray as in rain-threatening clouds, and green as in leaves. The Urhobo generally do not make black a symbol of mourning, as their neighbors the Itsekiri and the Bini do, but they consider it the opposite of white, and it therefore connotes evil. Ewen obiebi means "evil mind." I once saw a man caught as a thief painted charcoal black, and paraded and made to dance along the streets with a snail shell tied round his neck. Black here symbolizes disgrace. At the same time, black is also a symbol ofyouth and beauty. The dark skin ofUrhobo girls and women,toned up with palm-kernel pomade (ude), is considered very attractive. Ubiebifude is an expression ofpraise and admiration for the well-cultured skin ofthe black woman.A further use ofblack as a symbol ofbeauty appears in tattoos(ibrebru), the blue-black marks incised on the bodies of men and women. Another form of body decoration is done with ubi-a blueblack juice, squeezed from the pod ofa plant, that is applied as paint to draw patterns on the
Fig. 45 A protective marker (esa) that has been placed at the entrance to a roadside farm. Made of fresh palm fronds with bright red seeds at the edges, it signals that the area is under the spiritual protection of an edjo, and that any unauthorized person who enters the farm will suffer dire consequences. Near Edjekota, 1971.
Cat. 59 "Opha," 1973, by Bruce Onobrakpeya, Nigerian, b. 1932 Plastosraph print, water colors.79 x 53.5 cm. Courtesy ofthe artist
TWENTYFIVE YEARS OF CREATIVE SEARCH
EXHIEMON OF DRAWINGS,PA! INSTITUTE OF AFRICAN STUDIES t \1ViRflY OF MADAN FERRI. AR\ 15TH —24TH 1984 ..„ . 1984 18,RUCE ONeartAKPEYA
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bodies ofgirls and women. Ibrebru and ubi designs are rarely seen nowadays, but when they were in vogue, they were the ultimate ofbeauty makeup. Akprusi(vertical black marks on the face)can still be found on very old Urhobo people and on artworks. Typical examples appear on an iphri statue(fig. 38)and on a nineteenth-century wood carving ofa mother and child (fig. 43).
It is important to note that the Urhobo have many dialects and that names and color usage may slightly vary from one village-group to the other. An example is the camwood red called "isene" in Agbarha-Otor and Ughelli villageâ€˘groups. The same is known as ohwa in the Udu and Ughievwen groups. Sometimes the omoteyavwo ceremony takes place not when the bride marries but when she becomes pregnant.
Cat. 60 "Leopard in Cornfield," 1984, by Bruce Onobrakpeya, Nigerian, b. 1932 Color lithosraph.68 x 43 cm. PrivateCollection
Masks and Masquerades: The Enactment ofthe Edjo PERKINS FOSS
DANCES, accompanied by music and singing, occur regularly throughout Urhoboland.' These festivals may offer entertainment, but usually also have a deeper rationale: to praise and honor the edjo. The visual spectacles themselves are formulated specifically with the edjo in mind. Urhobo masquerade performances do not exist primarily for the pleasure ofthe audience and participants; rather, they are created for the enjoyment ofthe spirits themselves: Each ofthree basic categories ofedjo relates to a distinct geographic phenomenon:land (ow), air(enu)or water(ame). For each ofthese types, there are specific performances.These three categories can be summarized as follows: ELABORATE FESTIVALS (El-IA) OF MASKED
Spirits-of-the-earth (edjo oto, or edjoto, fig. 47) Spirits-of-the-atmosphere (edjo enu,or edjenu, figs. 48,49) Spirits-of-the-waters(edjo ame,or edjorame,figs. 5,6, 20,46,54,55,63-65)Spirits-of-the-Earth: An Assemblage of Cloth, Palm Nuts, and Bells
The most common masqueraders are dancers for the spirits-of-the-earth, known as edjoto. The actors are for the most part boys between the ages often and sixteen; they appear singly and in groups.They usually dance in the afternoon hours; their performance is a preliminary to the serving (8e) of an edjo shrine: Edjoto dancing usually occurs at the community's main market (afieki), an open,centrally located area,easily accessible to all. The market is also felt to be the part ofthe town that the edjo are most prone to visit: Three elements constitute the costume of an edjoto dancer: an eclectic headdress of wood, cloth,or vegetal fiber; multiple layers ofbright silk scarves, worn at the waist; and thick gatherings of bells and palm nuts wrapped around the lower legs and ankles. The themes for edjoto headdresses include a wide range ofimagery.Some are carvings offish,small animals,snakes,or birds. Others take the form ofabstract clusters ofsticks, which radiate upward in the form ofan inverted cone, often with bits of brightly colored wool or cotton at their tops. Equally common are more contemporary images: carvings of bicycles, motorcycles, ships, sewing machines, and phonographs.In one instance three dancers wore imported plastic bunnies.The very range ofthe imagery reflects the manner in which these dancers prepare their costumes: each family assembles the finery ofits own performers, and there is considerable competition for originality and innovation. In relative terms these forms are felt to be less spiritually profound, less able to attract the edjo, than other masquerades, but their air of amusement and joviality does not detract from the significance ofthe edjoto dance,for the spirits-of-the-earth are said to enjoy the spectacle as much as the audience does. A typical edjoto performer obscures his face with an opaque cloth that hangs on a hooplike frame (fig. 47). The cloth extends loosely over the arms and torso; it is secured by a twisted silk scarf draped around the dancer's neck. Layer upon layer ofscarves surround the dancer's body.
Fig. 46 Masked dancer for Ohworhu, at rest. Unenurhie 1972.
Fig. 48 Dancer on stilts (ikenike) at Orughworun 1971. Fig. 49 Dancer on stilts (ikenike) performing a balancing stunt, Oto-Edo 1972.
These brightly colored cloths, folded on their longest axes, are held by a belt worn high on the waist. They fan outward at the dancers' back and sides, swirling in a rich display of yellows, oranges,and reds. These layers ofcloth allude to wealth and prosperity, which years ofofferings have brought to the spirits ofthe earth. Tight stockings ascend well above the knee. They are usually white, but some are brightly colored,and even checkered or striped varieties are known.The dancer's ankles are adorned with assemblages of percussion: bands ofdried palm nuts (ibaga) are grouped with small spherical bells. As the dancer drives his legs up and down in the characteristically quick,staccato steps of the edjoto dance, these bells and kernels complement the drum patterns that lead the dancer. They play a crucial role in the final steps ofeach dancer's display, when he crashes first one,then the other foot to the earth in precise time to the drummer's beat.' Spirits-of-the-Atmosphere: Acrobatic Splendor for the Spirits
Another type ofedjo is said to reside not in the water or forest but within the very air that encloses the community.These are the spirits-of-the-atmosphere(edjo enu,or edjenu).Performers for spirits-of-the-air mount innovative, often dangerous displays that place the dancer near the locale ofthe spirits: they enter the air(enu)itselfthrough acrobatic dancing on stilts, or through the manipulation ofa huge conical construction,some thirty to forty feet tall, with interior platforms supporting as many as six dancers. The latter are known as "ekene" or "edjenu-ode." lkenike: Spectacles on Stilts
Dance for the spirits-of-the-atmosphere,ikenike, is very much alive today in many Urhobo communities. This performance takes the form of stilt-dancing and includes feats of acrobatic splendor(figs. 47,48). The stilt dancer wears a visually arresting array ofcloth, arranged to allow maximum mobility. His headdress is a simple wood figure some six to ten inches tall. His head is covered with the same kind ofloose-fitting opaque cloth worn by the edjoto dancer;cinched at his waist,similarly,are a series ofsix to eight tightly folded silk scarves ofbright colors, which in this case have the supplementary function ofproviding important physical support at the midsection. To the
Fig. 47 Performance for edjoto, masquerade for the spirits of the earth, Oto-Edo 1971.
dancer's legs are lashed stilts that reach heights of up to nine feet. While his feet rest on small notched platforms, his legs are tied to the upper extensions of the stilts, which terminate just below the knee. The most commonly executed stilt-dance step is a dramatic gesture in which the dancer bends sharply at the knees and then, in a single swift motion, snaps his torso and shoulders backward. While balancing on one flexed leg he simultaneously throws the other into the air, momentarily suspending and inverting himself Then, in a single powerful thrust, he rights himselfand dances around the arena with short,crisp steps to the cheers ofthe audience. The stilt dancer displays more individuality than any other Urhobo masquerader. Each participant dances primarily alone; occasionally two or three are seen at the same time, but this is more the exception than the rule. Each dancer prides himselfon certain individualized styles, signatures, as it were,ofhis own invention. Indeed his reputation is usually phrased in terms of the particular acrobatic stunts that he performs. Nearly all are balancing acts, in which the dancer, aided by a tall bamboo pole, ascends one ofa series ofobjects.(The balancing devices are as numerous as they are varied: a cutlass blade mounted on the top ofa wooden box,a pair ofbicycle-chain wheels mounted to the sides of a box, or the top surface of a forty-gallon oil drum.) Once he has attained his balance, he flings the pole aside,executes a backward half-flip and lands with both feet firmly on the ground (fig. 49). Ikenike dancers are entertaining not only their mortal audience;they are also performing for the spirits ofthe air,in much the same manner as edjenu-ode do.Theirjob is to dance near those forces; they elevate themselves offthe ground and enter the realm ofthe spirits-of-the-atmosphere.' Urhobo Water Spirit Imagery: Connections through the Creeks
Urhobo communities maintain close spiritual affinities with the waters that flow southward into the western part ofthe Niger delta. Each body ofwater—be it as a major avenue oftransportation, such as the Warn, Kiagbodo, or Eghwu rivers, or a smaller, less navigable tributary—is believed to harbor certain spirit that control both the water and all who use it.' They are known as edjorame, or "spirits-of-the-water." Erivwi, the dwelling place ofthe dead,is said to exist beneath the surface ofa river. In a related metaphor, the denizens ofthe water—fish, crayfish, crocodilians, crabs—are said to be sent to "this world"(Akpo)as "gifts"(ese) from the "other side." A northern water-spirit tradition called Okao centers on the Agbon communities ofIgun, Okpara Waterside, and Eku. Here, masquerade performance honors the spirits of the Ethiope River, which runs parallel to these towns and loosely defines the northern border ofthe Urhobo area. To the south,another water-spirit tradition appears at Efru,Eghwu,°tog°,Uhwerun,and Evwreni. In these locales the predominant water-spirit cult is that ofOhworhu, whose origins suggest pervasive artistic influence from the Ijo, the Urhobo's southern neighbors (figs. 5,6, 20, 46,54, 55,63-65; cats. 5,64,65,69,7o,73).
Three components dominate the visage ofthe Urhobo water-spirit mask: broad, sweeping forehead,concave cheeks,and protruding mouth.Five lineage marks define the curve ofthe forehead;one mark, placed on center, travels vertically from the top ofthe forehead to the bridge of the nose. While the forehead bulge is convex, the cheeks are concave,receding beneath crisp, slitted eyes to give the face a gaunt,stark quality. Each cheek is marked by three discrete dots mark, arranged sparingly in a horizontal line beneath each eye. These dots, the most common of Urhobo facial marks, echo the horizontal thrust ofthe eye cuts while leaving the cheek planes largely unadorned.' The recesses ofthe cheeks are drawn forward to frame the mouth, where a forceful image appears: multiple rows of bared teeth. Above the mask's face is a vertically and usually symmetrically arranged frieze ofhuman,animal,and bird motifs, occasionally varied by 104
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Cat. 61 "Eyame Jevwe (I Love My Two Wives)," 1982, by Bruce Onobrakpeya, Nigerian, b. 1932 Etchirkg. 39x IS cm.
Cat. 62 Mask Wood, pi8ment. H.39 cm. International Carnival and Mask Museum,Bindle, Belgium
Cat. 63 Mask Wood, pigment. H.45.7(111. Walt Disney-Tishman Collection ofAfrican Art
abstract geometric shapes.'These forms allude to various cult personalities(servants, visionaries, priests and priestesses)and fauna (crocodilians, fish, birds)associated with the waters. Every water-spirit masquerader wears a white cloth, which is attached to the edge of the mask and hangs freely to the ankles. With hands protruding from the edges ofthe cloth, he executes a series ofdramatic gestures from within the loose, flowing garment,activating it by billowing it upward,or spreading it first to one side, then to the other, in tightly phrased responses to the drums. The cloth's white color (ufuafo) is the prime color for Urhobo water spirits, for it is the color of riverbed chalk (oorhe). Chalk is seen as "food" for all types of Urhobo spiritual forces; alluvial riverbed deposits provide its most common source. Chalk metaphorically becomes the interface between land and water. By wearing pure white cloth, the masqueraders wrap themselves in the sacred substance ofthe rivers themselves(fig. 46).
For an overview of Urhobo performance traditions, see G.G. Darah's essay elsewhere in this volume. This concept of entertainment-through-imitation was vividly explained in 1971 by Oviede Aki of Evwreni: "If you, an American, are walking down the street and from a compound you begin to hear American music, smell American food, see people wearing American clothes and performing American dances, you will want to stop and see what is happening there. Once inside the compound, you will most likely to stay and be happy, since the goings-on are familiar to you." The term ge appears in the following phrases: Avware ge se re avware, or, in elided form, Avware geseravware, meaning We serve our fathers," or "We perform sacrifices in honor of our ancestors;" and 0 ge edjo re ovwode(0 gedjo rovwode), meaning 'He serves the spirit of the town." A common Urhobo belief is that an especially clairvoyant individual, i.e., one who has placed the correct medicine in his or her eyes, can actually see the messengers of the edjo at the marketplace, appearing in the form of human beings walking on their hands. While edjoto dance seems to be an essentially Urhobo phenomenon, there are some overlaps with neighboring traditions. On Christmas Day 1971, in the Uvwie village of Ugbomro, a hybrid performance including elements of both Urhobo and Itsekiri dance and song was seen. While the occasion was more a social than a spiritual event, one could clearly see the impact of Itsekiri dress and dance style upon the Urhobo. Stilt dancing is seen in many part of Urhoboland, but the dancers of the Ughienvwe village-group towns of Oto-Edo and Usiefru are renowned as the most accomplished. They travel widely throughout Urhoboland and through many other parts of Nigeria, appearing in regional and national festivals of the arts. In 1956, they performed in Lagos upon the occasion of a visit by Queen Elizabeth II; their performance was illustrated in National Geographic. See W. Robert Moore, "Progress and Pageantry in Changing Nigeria," National Geographic vol. 110 (1956), p. 340. These river names are of European origin. The Urhobo rarely refer to an entire river by a single name; instead they identify a part of a river by the name of a community nearest to it. Thus "urhie-Ughienvwe" refers to "the river at Ughienvwe," and the same body of water at the town of Ughelli is known as "urhie-Ughelli." These small marks, called iwu, are often termed "Urhobo tribal marks" but are also worn by many lsoko and Itsekiri. The term itself reiterates the relationship between the Urhobo and their neighbors to the north. lwu is cognate to a Bini term that H. J. Melzian identifies as "tribal marks ... not including the face-marks on the forehead.". See Melzian, A Concise Dictionary of the Bini Language of Southern Nigeria (London: K. Paul Trench Trubner & Co., Ltd., 1937), p. 104. In Evwreni, as discussed in the chapter that presents the Ohworhu festival, these masks specifically commemorate Ovata, the faithful wife who awaited her husband's return from deep in the Ijo creeks. She stands atop the superstructure, then, and her vagina is clearly on display, in a bold, oversized scale. This overt sexual symbolism offers the viewer irrefutable evidence that the mask is performing in praise of women.
urhobo Performance Arts G. G. DARAH
cover a wide spectrum ofevents, ranging from pithy remarks such as proverbs,idioms,and invocations ofcognomens(odovah)to elaborate displays of dance, music,and processions on festival occasions. What follows is a descriptive account ofsome ofthe performance arts that constitute the vast repertoire ofUrhobo literature and folklore. Urhobo performance arts can be grouped into two broad categories. The first comprises ritual performances (elm edjo), events associated with ritual and religious observances and ceremonies. This large corpus includes prayer (erhovwon) and allied ceremonies. Offering a prayer (erhovwon eme) may involve a silent appeal to a supernatural force for the fulfillment ofa desire; it may also involve acts performed by a priest or priestess(osedjo/oni-edjo), who serves as a medium between client or boon-seeker and the divine force (fig. 36). Incantations, ritual songs, and the use ofinstruments are part ofthe performance. The art ofdivination (epha ebo) is the most elaborate ofthis variety ofritual performances. PERFORMANCE ARTS (EHA) IN URHOBO
Fig. 50 Aghwotu lkpama, priest of igbe aduri. Edjekota 2000.
Fig 51 Mock battle for the edjo Ovughere. Ovu Inland 1967.
Another kind ofeha edjo comprises ceremonial events such as festivals in honor ofa god or any spirit medium.These events may involve the participation ofthe devotees ofa particular cult or religious society.(fig, ii). The season ofworship or thanksgiving,is known as ore edjo,efa edjo, or efa orhan. The performances displayed in this context range from prayer, invocation, and purificatory cleansing(oma eporho) to choral singing, music, dancing, and the dramatic enactmentofscenes and acts(figs. 5za, b).The word ore(festival)is applied to the annual and seasonal ceremonies during which a community or town performs a festival. Some ofthese performance arts are conducted in secluded enclosures or temples(uwovwin orhan/edjo) while others take place in an open arena or theater(afen ada)for the entertainment ofthe general public. Songs,dance, and drama dominate these events, which, because merriment and the aesthetic effect are their prime objective, tend to blend ritual and secular arts.In the past, nearly every Urhobo community hosted one such festival,at intervals ofa few years. 110
Fig. 52a, b Dance introducing an Ohworhu performance, Uhwerun 1971.
In the Ughienvwe and Udu districts of Urhobo, the dance performances of ore or efa are called egbada. Egbada dance performance is well developed in the Owahwa section ofUghienvwe, where the annual Egba festival has been held regularly for about 400 years. The Egba war dance is also popular in Kokori. The Egba variant is practiced as Ohworhu in Evwreni, Eghwu, and Uvwie,and as Akwovworho in Okwagbe and Urhiephron; but the war dance egbada is popular throughout Urhoboland. The dance steps, drumming, and singing are done in fast tempo to indicate the martial nature ofthe event. Carriers ofritual objects usually perform dramatic roles during the event; guns, cutlasses, spears, and other lethal weapons are employed in mock dramatic scenes to reenact wars and battles fought in the past(fig. 51). The second broad category ofperformance arts comprises secular dance(igbe) and song (tine), both of them well-developed art forms. The variety of the genres, both extinct and extant, is indicative ofthe significance the Urhobo attach to music as a mark oftheir civilization. It also suggests the high level of democracy enjoyed by the Urhobo over the past half-millennium. Although related to the royal kingdom of Benin, to the north, the Urhobo did not share their neighbors' institutional tyranny, which inhibited the freedom of individuals and groups to articulate their self-image and feelings through art. Secular forms include folk songs(Me onyevwen)sung for merriment in peer groups and bars. One such song is "Iginiyeye"(an exhortation ofthe townsfolk in an atmosphere ofcamaraderie.)' often heard when friends gather to share drink and Em.The song celebrates the importance oflabor as the source of wealth and sustenance. Another song,"Mo adidi" "come and let's drink together"), invokes thejoy ofsharing drinks and relaxation. A third,"Edjen djen k'oyen e djoma"("let's show ourselves") refers to the premium attached to status and identity. The song contains such questions as "Where is your father from?""Who is your mother?""Ifyou can't say then you are not a freeborn." One folk song that has survived for nearly a century comments on the dethronement and exiling ofthe Benin monarch by the British in 1897. It goes, Se me dje,se meyan Se me vwa Oba Uselu Se me dje,se meyan Se me vwa Oba Uselu Ukpe oyibo muen Oba Aka Idjoye r'oyen soma uvwerhe Se me dje,se meyan Se me vwa Oba Uselu.
Should I run or should I walk To meet the King at Uselu Should I run or should I walk To meet the King at Uselu The year the British arrested the Benin monarch His royal train lamented Should I run or should I walk To meet the King at Uselu.
Several classical dance/song genres that developed over a century ago are still current in Urhobo.These performances were held at annual art festivals organized by communities to display their talents. One ofthese genres is udje, about which J. P. Clark and this author have written extensively. Udje was-and to a limited extent, still is-practiced in seven ofthe twenty-two Urhobo village-groups, with the people of Udu and Ughienvwe being acknowledged as its best exponents. To perform it, communities would organize themselves in ritual pairs and compose satirical songs to attack one another.The poetic quality ofthe songs and the graceful steps ofthe dance have made udje a classical form with an undying fame. The ighovwan dance ofthe Uvwie is similar to Udje in the temper ofthe songs and the organization ofthe dance. The ema dance, which celebrates the aesthetics ofroyalty in movement and dress, is popular in the Ughelli and Agbon groups. Ikpeba is an ancient form practiced in Okpe and its adjoining districts. These dances are now performed at important social and ceremonial events,including political rallies, receptions, and the burials ofdignitaries. Beginning in the 1.94os, a genre of popular-music ensembles was widespread among the Urhobo. The dances were developed by social clubs and associations ofyoung men and women
in the rural communities of Urhobo. As each dance form flourished and went out offashion, a new one emerged, and new songs and dance steps were performed at annual festival occasions. Some ofthe popular dance genres were i8oru,opiri,adjuya,overen,and soso. Urban varieties ofthese songs have developed since the 196os. Whereas the older forms involved group membership,the new genre is practiced on a professional basis by orchestras ofartists who produce and market their albums. Changes in the technology of production and distribution-that is, the introduction ofaudio recordings on a large scale-have shifted the audience from the community-based dance arena to homes and cars. The songs'emphasis now falls more on lyrics, melody, rhythm and the voices ofthe singers than on the dramatic event ofa festive outdoor performance. As in the past, however, the professional groups are still invited to entertain at social events such as funerals and weddings. In all Urhobo dance-and-music performances, specific roles are given to performers. The songs are written by a poet/composer (ororine). The performance or delivery is done by a gifted vocalist (obo-une). Music is provided by the okwa(drummer)and the dancing is executed by the dance group (otu-i8be). The lead dancer/performer is the owena-igbe. Women provide clapping and use instruments such as idiophones to enhance sound. Before a major performance event, ritual officials prepare the artists with prayer, incantation, and psychological orientation. Interludes in performances feature the Aje Uclje(Queen ofthe dance), who salutes the performers with praise and words ofencouragement. The handling of a long narrative song requires the effort of several experts. A lead singer makes the introduction. In a song with a number ofintroductory stanzas, several leaders may take a stanza each. The main body ofthe song is performed in chorus,sometimes with the lead singers providing the prompting. The conclusion or epilogue may be sung in a choral form or given to the leaders to handle.Sections ofthe song may be mimed or dramatized to intensify the theatrical effect. Drumming may be introduced at intervals for the same purpose. Eloquence of voice, dexterity ofbody,and harmony ofvoice, melody,and drums are the essential elements of Urhobo dance/song aesthetics. Masquerade performances are also well developed among the Urhobo. The art the ensemble ofaction, music and spectacle in these performances is referred to as edjo-egbe and the masked dancer is omo-edjo. In the Niger Delta the Urhobo, the Ijo, the Isoko, and the Itsekiri share the basic features ofmasquerade art. The images and icons represented in the masks are drawn from the environment and folklore. The beliefin spirits incarnated in the mask gives this art form a religious significance; the spirits celebrated are mostly believed to inhabit the waters, but some Urhobo masks depict ideas offorest spirits or celestial bodies. Scholars have found a strong Ijo influence in the forms, and also in some ofthe songs performed in Southern Urhobo districts such as Eghwu,Olomu,Ughienvwe, Udu,and Uvwie. In fact the words ofthese songs are in the Ijo language. I have found the same influence in the masquerade dances of Ughienvwe and Uvwie. Urhobo verbal arts include speech or oratory(ota-eta)and formal presentation and quotation (iyeren). An otota(the spokesman at a village-group gathering)can be expected to perform these arts with consummate skill, but anyone can be versed in the use of proverbs, idioms (ise), and other devices ofspeech, which is practiced every day at social events and gatherings. No special occasion is required for ise to be performed. The introduction of electronic media and the spread of urbanization have encouraged the emergence ofprofessionalism: these days orators such as ChiefS. Ofuah may be hired to perform at important social gatherings. The performance offictional narratives(osia egbe) and legendary tales(ikun egbe awaren) is seen as an art; anyone can tell a tale, but osia (folktales in general) call for special skills, and the expert narrator (osbo-osia) is an artist. Some notable narrators-Chief Cousin Onofekohwo ofKokori,for example, who has been active for nearly fifty years as a narrator and entertainer-have acquired fame beyond their immediate locality. Oratorical entertainers 1 I2
thrill audiences of mixed ethnic backgrounds at receptions and funeral events, displaying their skills and deploying devices such as jokes, banter, and verbal quizzes. Chief Ofuah and others travel with performing groups ofsingers, dancers, and acrobats, whose dramatic sketches indicate their awareness ofthe potentials ofthe mass media. Indeed, Urhobo performers are among the most celebrated in Nigerian film and video, with the likes ofTed Mukoro,Justus Esiri, Mofe Damijo,and "Reverend" Eghwrudjakpor performing the star roles in television drama series.
The verb eha (heha) means "to perform, to act, to display, to execute, or to present an artistic event." In the present context it does not include the visual arts(ekwakwa ona), although visual images are part of the overall aesthetics of the performance arts. Tanure Ojaide has kindly offered translations of these three expressionsâ€”editor. J. P. Clark-Bekederemo, J. P., Collected plays and poems, 1958-1988. Howard University Press, 1991., G. G. Darah, E. S. Akama, J. T. Agberia, Studies in Art, Religion & Culture among the Urhobo & 'sokÂ° People. Port Harcourt, 2003.
Ohworhu: A Spectaclefor the Spirits PERKINS FOSS
THROUGHOUT SOUTHERN URHOBOLAND there exists a water spirit whose
festival includes elaborate danced performances. This spirit is called Ohworhu.Numerous recountings ofits origins speak ofconnections with the creek-dwelling Ijo, who live south of the Urhobo. Its drama enacts, in the most vivid terms, the Urhobo's relationship with the waters, and with the powers invested in them(figs. 5,6,20,46,53-55,57-59,61-65). Ohworhu appears in the majority ofsouthern Urhobo communities,but does not appear identically. In no two communities does the drama take on the same structure or,for that matter,the same artistic elements.The cult is constantly changing,and is eminently dynamic in character, with few static or fixed elements.Each performance exists in many local variations,which are often based on the preferences ofindividual priests,officials, performers,and artists. Communities compete a great deal in the performance of the Ohworhu festival Also, complex kinship patterns assure that many individuals will wimess performances in numerous towns other than the one in which they were born,and to which they therefore owe prime allegiance.This cross-fertilization constantly brings fresh ideas and interpretations into the communities. Ohworhu exists in the village groups ofEghwu, Uvwie, Uhwerun, Ogo, and Evwreni.In September 1972 at Evwreni,this writer was fortunate enough to observe and participate in a complete series ofperformances for Ohworhu, including the accompanying preliminary and closing rites. The Festival of Ohworhu at Evwreni Once in a decade the people ofEvwreni celebrate Ohworhu.'On two days ofmasquerade danc-
ing and during preliminary rites spaced throughout the previous months,they honor the spirits responsible for the well-being ofthe community. Works ofart in wood and palm raffia come to express deep-seated belie& in water- and forest-based spiritual forces. Ohworhu is a water spirit(ecyo re ame,or, as it is commonly pronounced,edjorame)that is said to have come from the non-Urhobo-speaking areas to the south,and specifically from the area now occupied by the Western Ijo. The spirit is said to have originated in the"deep waters," or oku; by this name the residents ofEvwreni are alluding to the maze ofcreeks and waterways that border on the South Atlantic Ocean,at the southern extreme ofthe Niger River Delta.The people ofEvwreni tell the origins ofOhworhu in the following tale ofmarital fidelity. Long ago,a man named Emeha went on a long fishing trip deep in the network ofrivers and creeks south ofEvwreni,in the lands ofthe Ijo peoples(fig. 53). As is still the practice today, he planned to remain abroad for a long time, perhaps as much as two or three years. He told his intentions to his senior wife,Ovata,and to help her know when he would return,he secretly gave
Cat. 65 Mask Wood,pigment encrustation. H.32an. Private Collection Belgium This mask is characteristic of a type used in ceremonies honoring the water spirit Ohworhu, common to the southern Urhobo communities
Cat. 64 Mask Wood,cowrie shells. H.57cm. Collection Lucien Van de Velde,Antwerp
0'4'45k., • •
Fiq. 53 A small river near Evwreni, 1971.
her a magical yam seedling.She would know he would be returning, he told her, when the yam began to sprout. After Emeha had been gone for nearly three years, his brothers decided that he had met a tragic fate and decided to divide his possessions according to normal inheritance customs,which included sending Ovata to live with her missing husband's younger brother. Ovata, however, refined to lose hope,because the seedling had begun to sprout,and she knew Emeha was soon to return. Indeed,Emeha did soon reappear in Evwreni,and he announced to the town the reason for his delay: he had met Ohworhu. The spirit had appeared to Emeha in the form ofstrange, nonhuman,non-animal creatures dancing on the surface ofa river and on its banks. Realizing that he had chanced upon a most powerful spirit, he remained there in order to learn its ways: its songs,its dances, its music. He also managed to obtain a number of objects from Ohworhu: two face masks, a large wooden gong,and a clay pot containing the herbal ingredients(orhan)central to controlling the spirit. Ovata had been faithful to her husband when all his kinsmen had lost hope. To honor that fidelity, Emeha announced that Ohworhu would be considered sacred to women. When questioned about the sex ofOhworhu,then,Evwreni people always reply that it is female,citing the story ofOvata.' Executive responsibility in the cult, and all dancing with masks,are exclusively male tasks, but the two most senior masks in the festival drama represent female characters: Ohworhu's most faithful servant,Oyunworia(who appears in the preliminary "Little Sun" performance,fig.59),and Inene-Ode,"mother-of-us-all,"(fig.64)who appears at the final moments of"Big Ohworhu." In addition, the opening song ofthe festival, sung first at all preparatory events, remembers Emeha's wife:"Odi re ovwo edjo, Ovatal"(Oh patient one,owner ofthe spirit, Ovata!). 6
Bouquet of Songs TANURE OJAIDE
1 Ovata crossed her legs when she cracked palm kernels
She believed neither divining sighs nor blurred signs.
and washed legumesfor the soup she shared with solitude.
And so when the drowned man rerumedfrom the dead
No kids cryingfor care that calledfor counsel or lullabies,
his presence confronted those who wanted his wife. Ovata almost poked herfirwer in their dartiq eyes when they came to "rejoice withyou andyour wife."
she sang in a language nobody understood, withoutsorrow. She could smell the he-goatsfrom the grunting distance; she shook her head at the multitude ofdis,quises ofmen who in the dark sentgifts and messages, or came in person to plead boyishly their amorous cases before herface.
Her life,fallowfrom absence, began to bloomflowers and the couple, after they passed beyond,canonized.
Many still carried scars ofwoundsfrom stolen pleasures, one had not washed offthe camwood powder ofhis bride.
Yearly at mid-season offloods they are remembered, Ovata serenaded with songs ofvindication by men
What did the mill of men want that they had not cornered into their palates that drove them to be so possessed?
who would have wanted her and by women who warm themselves into her to keep away their insatiable men!
But the rock rooted in rivers would not be shaken
by thunderstorms brewed in the chants ofrain-makers;
And I offer this bouquet ofsongs to Ovata
in vain medicine-men tried their utmost to help them win.
who overcame legions ofamorous assaults. Men on heat suffer shortsightedness or blindness. Take awayyour arrowing eyesfrom theflowers
Aforbidden game can only endanger,she knew as a child. She would not untie her mind and wrapper, or step outside; she builtfences against perils ofleopards and poachers. She cleared and weeded herfann,fearedfor herfriends who imagined an absent man dead. Duplicitous kind, she was so vulnerable in the minds ofwomen and men whose crop overflowed compounds, puddled playgrounds. Even as she raised her scooping basket netfrom lake waters and caught the envied mudfish that eluded other wives,
Needless to stir strife or spill blood in days ofjoy.
ofher dearly preserved body, her castle ofwonders! You can only dream ofbut not enter the bedchamber, your quiver emptied into the shadow ofafairy princess. Gifts offorelegs ofporcupine or a deep gourd ofmudfish would not break her held-back avid hunger she saw througligifts and wraps into entrapments.
they still pitied her because herfisherman-husband
She waitedfor herfeast whenever it would come; a devotee with growingfaith in her absent lord.
must have lost his life in the big rivers or sea beyond.
I present a constant star in the cloud-weary sky.
Although the most visible aspects ofartistic expression lie in the two-day festival itself, a series of preparatory events spread over the prior nine lunar months is integral to the celebration. Ohworhu comes from the water.Accordingly,the first step in the cycle is to attract the spirit away from its normal abode and into the community. Nine lunar months before the festival, in the middle ofthe dry season, when the waters ofthe Niger are still receding, the first signals are sent to the edjo. The method employed is direct and to the point: the senior musical instrument, a wooden gong said to be a replica of the one Emeha brought home, is carried to the water's edge, lowered into the water, and secured by a rope to the land. Prayers are called to Ohworhu; white riverbed chalk (oorhe) and locally manufactured gin (udi o8o8oro) are served onto the water's surface above the submerged gong. The instrument stays underwater for six months,during which the senior priest returns to the waterside to send more prayers to the spirit at regular intervals. At the end ofthis period, now three moons from the festival date,the time has come for one last entreaty. On this sacred day, known as "the day of arrival"(ebiocha), the priest and his executives return to the riverbank. After a final serving ofthe surface ofthe water they remove the gong and carefully examine its contents. If the spirit has heard their prayers, and has agreed CO come to the festival, it will have sent a message in the form of a small fish trapped in the gong. Once the minnow is identified, the cult leaders triumphantly reenter the town,sing praises of the spirit, and announce that in three lunar cycles Ohworhu will appear and the festival will take place.
Final arrangements are now made.The priest and his executives lay out a timetable covering nearly one complete lunar cycle, beginning with five nighttime practice sessions (aso) and ending with the two daytime celebrations. The first and less important part of this two-day event is poetically called "Little Sun"(uvo tete). Four days later comes the grandest celebration, the moment of supreme spiritual praise: "Big Ohworhu"(Ohworhu ode). On this day custom states that the waters of the Niger will have reached their maximum annual height. At this moment,it is said, Ohworhu and her followers will travel up the rivers and reach the environs ofEvwreni. Because all women must be inside their houses during the evening practice performances, nothing begins until nearly midnight. Cult officials and males ofall ages assemble at the festival site to rehearse the dancing and singing, and, most important, to send further entreaties to the spirit. Masqueraders perform "naked," that is, without the masks, bells, and protective charms that appear on the festival days. Over a simple pair ofshorts they wear a cloak ofimported white cotton (alma oyibo, literally "cloth-of-white-man")draped over the head and tied at the chin. Controlled by hands and elbows, these clothes swirl through the darkness and reflect the soft moonlight. Assembled behind the drummers, the singers call out praises to the spirit and incite their kinsmen to stop their petty feuding and prepare for its arrival:
Fig. 54 Mask for Ohworhu that displays a figure bearing an iphri on his head. Evwreni 1972. Fig. 55 Oviede Aramuemu Aki standing with two masks for Ohworhu that he recently had carved. Evwreni 1972.
lbe re Ohworhu rabeverhe ogba ro he! Ochedio owhara, re okarunn he ota, e, ogba ro he!
The moment ofOhworhu, spread throughout the land,
the time is now at hand! You idle sitters, who talk so loudly, yes, the time is now at hand!
Cat. 66 Mask Wood,pigment. H.38 cm. Private Collection, France Cat. 67 Mask
Wood,pigment H.71 cm. Private Collection
The principal actors in the first-day, Little Sun celebration are dancers wearing wooden masks, which are created according to a dual aesthetic, evoking both moral fear and spiritual beauty(fig. 54). The spirits have been invited; now they must be honored-and maximal honor,it is believed,stems from maximal imitation. Masqueraders move as though they were edjo; with similar intent, artists strive to create accurate visions ofthe spirits. A total ofeleven masks appear on the first day. All but two conform rigidly to a single pattern: dominating the mask is a swelling, exaggerated forehead, vertically sectioned by delicate tribal marks (akpurusi over the nose, iwu elsewhere). Whitened half-moon eyes loom above the dark recessed slit through which the dancer sees. Concave cheeks curve dramatically outward to a ferocious,teeth-revealing mouth.Above the face rests a crown-like ensemble,often combining bird, animal, and human. Extending from the chin is a curving, cylindrical form; called the "hand"(obor)ofthe mask,this serves as a grip by which the wearer can dramatically enhance his motions by turning the mask as he performs. Choices ofcolors do not rest with the artist who carves the mask. Rather, the mask's owner both chooses the colors and applies them,following his own taste. The only constant is the handling of the eyes and mouth, which must be coated with riverbank chalk (oorhe), a substance sacred to all Urhobo spirits. The patron-owner also decides on the design ofthe crowning figural group; here he often requests a miniature personal shrine figure,such as an iphri(controllerof-aggression, fig. 54)or urhievbe(guide-of-destiny). Equally common are birds, especially representations of the pygmy kingfisher (asa), said to be both companion and messenger for the spirits in their travels. Commonly seen at Ohworhu performances are various masks that honor Urhobo brides,opha(cats. 5,66,68,71).Their appearance emphasizes the powerful role that water spirits assume as protectors ofyoung women. The masks are simultaneously beautiful and fearsome. By definition, the closer their resemblance to the spirit, the greater their beauty(oma)in 120
Cat. 68 Mask Wood,pigment. H.51 cm. Collection Hcnricus & Nina Simonis,Dusseldorf
Cat. 69 Mask Wood. H.66an. Private Collection
Cat. 70 Mask Wood, pigment, rattan. H.47 cm. Collection Guillaume de Verges
the spirit's eyes. Conversely,a well-carved mask instills terror(umuoro)in mortal viewers. Oviede Aramemu Aid,an artist preparing a mask for Ohworhu(figs.56;cat.69)was asked why he did not carve naturalistic forms,as in the traditions ofneighboring Benin. His reply:"Oh!But in Benin they make people. I make edjo!"3 In this riposte lies the essence ofthe Ohworhu aesthetic: the forms are not human,and they are not beautiful to humans.Form is determined by intent:since the masks are meant for the edjo,their beauty is conceived through the eyes ofthe edjo. Terminology both clarifies and extends these concepts. The masks are called "heads-of-thespirit"(uyovwi edjo). They are also known as ekpehre, a term of multiple meanings: first, it can mean "skull."Second,and more precisely in this instance,it can mean "anything with its outer layers removed."An Evwreni artist offered a suggestive analogy in his regard:"Just as the skin of a fish falls offduring cooking, the outer layers ofa tree are removed when it is shaped into the head-of-the-spirit."4 The masqueraders in full regalia are generally called ophredjo or ophreke, a clear reference to birds.(The generic term for bird is ophran.)"Ophredjo"refers only to bird-spirits but"ophreke" is more specific: eke is translated as the rump ofan animal or the upper buttocks ofa human.The delicate, light,fast-moving steps ofthe dances for Ohworhu are likened to the movements ofa bird(fig. 5). In summary, Urhobo expression portrays the masquerader as fearsome, skull-like spiritheads moving with birdlike gestures. These multiple implications are compounded in the festival, when groups ofcarefully orchestrated images merge into a brilliant synthesis ofreligious beliefand artistic intent. By midday of Little Sun, a crowd approaching 5,000 strong has assembled around an oval clearing marked outacross the main road through town.After a series oflast-minute prayers,the senior drummer, with drum on his shoulder, and the senior priest leave the shrine house and begin a slow ceremonial walk from compound to compound,collecting their fellow cult executives(Mug bedjo,"the mouths ofthe spirit"). This group alone is allowed to sit down during the festivities; all others, regardless ofage or status, must remain standing throughout the afternoon.The pace quickens as they approach the crowd.To praises sung by the assembled throng, they dance to their seats. Before the main masquerade groups appear, a single mask makes a brief but significant appearance. This image,enigmatically called Akparakpa, is alleged to be one ofthe two masks
Fig. 56 The stages of carving a mask for Ohworhu. Oviede Aramuemu Aki carved this mask in October 1972. He uses camwood (Baphia nitida), a hardwood that is deep red, a color especially sacred to the Urhobo. Evwreni 1972. a. He begins work with prayers to his hands and to his tools. b. He starts with a heavy cutlass (opia) to block out the main forms. c. He cuts in details of forehead and face with a chisel. d. He finishes the work with a series of homemade tools as well as various grades of sandpaper. The finished mask is shown in cat. 40.
Mask Wood, pigment. H.42 an. Private Collection, France
Mask Wood,pigment. H.38.1 cm. Samuel P. Ham Museum ofArt, University of
Florida, Gift ofRodney D. McGalliard
that the founder fisherman Emeha brought back from the "deep waters." Today it is carried by a young boy from Emeha's family. The task was originally performed by a grown man, but it is said that he"could not control" the image;going berserk, he ran wildly into the audience and was subdued only with great difficulty. Divination revealed that the forces inherent in the akparakpa spirit-image were so great that its wearer should be a young boy, whose movements could be controlled by nearby adults. Accordingly, the boy's father holds his arm throughout his brief appearances. Once he reaches the forefront ofthe arena, other men rush forward, sweep the child offhis feet, and carry him away. Now the main performers are ready. First to appear is a group of three masks known as "mother-of-the-spirit"(Oniedjo). Entering the arena one in front ofthe other,they rigidly maintain this row through a performance that encompasses half of the total afternoon's dancing. Attached to the rear edges of the face masks are plain white cloths that billow out behind. Around the dancers' waists are a series ofmulticolored,tightly wrapped silk scarves ofdual function: first, they act as back braces to support the dancers during their strenuous performance; second,they enclose herbal medicines that ward offthe harmful effects ofpotentially malevolent spirits. At both waist and ankles hang small bells, whose sounds are said to be especially attractive to the spirits.' These three individuals move up to the drummers as one,their arms extended in front, backs arched forward; they dance on their toes,driving their knees upward,double-timing the master drumbeat. Then, turning, they dance counter-clockwise around the extremities of the arena, close to the audience. Once the trio has completed the circle and is back at its starting position, the drum rhythms change and the mother-of-the-spirit masks begin a slow, rolling, sidestepping dance,first to one side ofthe audience, then to the other. Up to the front,around the edge, from side to sideâ€”these three basic patterns are repeated over and over until, upon a signal from the senior priest, it is time to make way for the remaining performers. With costumes substantially identical to those of the mother-of-the-spirit dancers, the remaining masqueraders appear, some singly, some in pairs (fig. 57). Their names are mostly enigmatic praise terms applied to the spirits that accompany Ohworhu to the festival.'Included in this group are masquerade characters specific to the Evwreni version ofOhworhu performance:Amakasavwo and Utecheruvo, who appear singly; and Ititigbogbo, which appears as a pair. Although all their dances are based on the patterns demonstrated by the "mother" group,each has an individualized series ofgestures and steps. During an interim before the final masqueraders appear comes a moment ofhigh drama,the appearance ofthe Faithful Servant, Oyunworia (oro ye uwevwi oria, literally "one-who-goes-outfrom-the-house").7 The Servant serves Inene-Ode ("the mother-of-us-all") who appears on the final performance day. Its forms and costume depart from the norms established by those ofthe other dancers: first, it is halfagain larger than the others. Over a yellow surface, ancient tribal markings curve downward across a swelling,exaggerated forehead.Sunken eyes are coated with white chalk, as is the round extruding mouth. The mask is crowned by two curving, hornlike plaits of hair, beneath which is a single long-beaked bird. Like the image for Ohworhu, the Faithful Servant is said to be ancient, and to signify her seniority, long plaits ofdried raffia fall nearly to her ankles. Throughout the performance this dancer has been seated motionless at the far end ofthe arena. On a signal from the senior priest, all music and dance abruptly stop. The
Fig. 57 Masked dancers at the festival for Ohworhu, Evwreni 1972.
Fig. 58 The black fishing eagle ("Ugo biebi") dancer resting, festival for Ohworhu, Evwreni 1972. Fig. 59 The "Faithful Servant" (Ayunworia) performing in the "Little Sun" dance for Orhworhu. Evwreni 1972.
audience falls silent; the Faithful Servant rises from her seat, holding in her right hand a tall, slender branch nearly twice her height (fig. 59). She slowly begins a majestic walk toward the priests and drummers.Her legs tremble;the giant walking stick quivers under the pressure from her aged hand. As she approaches,the senior priest beckons: Etete omarieyan!
Omote re Eshwu. mote re Ughienvwe. Gbi-i! Oyunworia
Oh how slowly the old one walks! Daughter ofEghwu daughter ofUghienvwe.8 Oh!So weighty! Faithful Servant, who speaks for us all!
After each greeting the Servant stops momentarily and replies in a quavering voice,"Yes!"(Ee), then continues her slow forward pace. Once she arrives before the priest, he prays quietly while pouring libations ofgin at her feet. He grinds a lump ofchalk between his hands and blows the white powder into the air,transmitting his prayers to the ethereal realm ofthe spirits.The Servant slowly turns and with great dignity walks slowly back to her seat at the far end ofthe arena.At this moment Ohworhu accepts all that has been given her. Here she comes in closest contact with the mortals of Evwreni. On this day she sends her messenger. Four days later, on the day of Big Ohworhu,she will appear herself Once the Servant is reseated,a final pair ofmasquerades appears.These are the Vulturine Fish Eagles(ugo): one"white"(ugo ufuafon),one "black"(two biebi, fig. 58). Their masks are again very similar to those worn by earlier masqueraders; identification is confirmed by a single feather,one white,one black,worn at the top ofeach mask Real fish eagles are rarelyseen around Evwreni;they live "where Ohworhu stays," in the deep waters ofthe Niger River distributaries farther south. Their arrival in masqueradeform is yet another indication ofthe presence of0hworhu on this day. As the Fish Eagles finish their dance,the cult executives receive gifts offood and money from their respective family members.Singing songs ofpraise,kinsmen dance forward in groups toward their seated relatives. A tray laden with money(often the equivalent ofover $loo), yams,plantains, and a live ram are presented to each such honored individual. The money is his to use for the Emily's benefit;the food will be prepared later in the evening for all to enjoy. 124
Mask Wood,pigment. H.25.4 cm. Samuel P. Ham Museum ofArt,University of Florida, Gift ofRodney D. McGalliard
Every year Evwreni holds an abbreviated version ofthe Little Sun celebration, without the many preparatory rites and practice sessions.About once a decade, when the divinatory signs are correct and the necessary funds have been raised, they celebrate the second day, Big Ohworhu. Wooden masks are put aside on this occasion; magnificent creations ofraffia appear in their place.(figs. 6, 20,62). The masqueraders' names and dance patterns are the same as those seen during Little Sun; the transformation is more ofmedia than ofform. Understanding the reasons behind this transformation is critical to understanding the nature of Ohworhu in this moment of high festival drama.Ohworhu,it will be remembered,comes from the"deep waters,"on whose banks the fisherman Emeha witnessed her dance and learned her secrets. Riverbanks are considered the abodes ofa multitude ofUrhobo spirits; it is a general Urhobo beliefthat their thick reeds are especially sacred to water spirits. These sacred riparian environments are metaphorically brought into town at festival time. Masquerade images made ofpalm fronds allegorize the very source ofthe spirits; their appearance is the ultimate effort to attract the edjo into the community. The masquerades appear in three basic types: one large animal-figure of woven raffia, six mound-forms ofloose raffia,and six cloth-and-bamboo constructions. Oniedjo,the"mother-ofthe-spirit," which on the first day appeared as three separate masquerades, now takes the shape of a huge, abstracted animal, which houses two dancers while a third carries its tail (fig. 6). Narrow woven strips oflight- and dark-colored raffia form a shell about five feet wide and fifteen feet long. From a flat, triangular facade,the sides taper backward and down to a single point from which a plaited tail extends another three feet. Angling upward from the edges of the facade are oversized rounded ears,also made ofraffia. Suspended across the front is a rectangular cloth divided into halves,the lower one red,the upper one white.Red and white in this case recall the colors most sacred to all edjo: red from the camwood tree(isele), white from riverbank chalk (oorhe). Also attached to the front are various spirit-controllers:small bells and a live baby chicken attract the good spirits; medicinal gourds repel harmful elements. Completing the form is a raffia fringe enclosing the lower extremities,and imitating the environment whence Ohworhu comes. Ohworhu devotees at Evwreni call this form "giant animal" (eravwe saroan), a name both unidentifiable and mythic.They present a cogent reason for attributing its form to no specific creature: they have never seen it. It is said to live in the deep waters from which Ohworhu comes,and on
Fig. 60 The Big Animal (eravwe) in performance at an Ohworhu festival. Evwreni 1972. Fig. 61 Closing events at the festival for Ohworhu. The Big Animal (eranvwe) and her "children" line up to leave the arena. Evwreni 1972. Fig. 62 Raffia Ititigbogbo Pair of raffia performers at the festival for Ohworhu, Evwreni 1972.
this sacred occasion it is allegorically brought into Evwreni. Accompanying the "mother" masquerade are six "children-of-the-spirit" (emedjo). These figures are made oflayers ofloose raffia strips that cover a hooplike bamboo frame (fig. zo, 63). The entire form encloses the dancer, who supports it with his arms and shoulders and can lift and turn it at will. Lesser masqueraders, which appeared on the first day in wood masks,today appear as bamboo-framed cones ofcloth. A hoop form similar to that used for the raffia "children"supports a lower covering ofwhite cotton,above which ranges a tall narrow pole decorated with multicolored silk scarves. During the night before Big Ohworhu,specially appointed family members meet at the waterside and construct the "mother" and "children" images from previously collected materials. As the first rays of sunlight appear, the master slit-drum is sounded at the arena. Upon this summoning signal, the forms move in silence from their seclusion to the arena, where they will remain, motionless, throughout the morning. Here their family assistants carry out finishing touches, tightening the fronds and,in the case ofthe huge "mother" figure,completing the fringe that hangs below its woven sides. At about midday,drummers,singers,and priest assemble at the shrine house and then dance into the arena, where spectators have been assembling throughout the morning.One by one the cult executives arrive and take their seats, and soon the performance begins. As was the case four days ago,the mother-of-the-spirit, now in animal form,performs first. The drums signal; it rises and moves forward with short, rapid steps. In time with the tumultuous cries of the singers assembled behind the drums, it repeatedly lifts and lowers its front, then backs away from the orchestra and priests. Once in the center it sways from side to side, then begins a sidestepping dance,first to one extremity ofthe arena, then across to the other. As it reaches each side, it radically tips its underside toward the audience, acknowledging their praise songs and dances. While the rear, tail-holding dancer slaps its side in rhythm with the drums,it circles the arena, close to the spectators. Over and over the animal repeats these patterns, which take the same forms as those executed by the trio ofmasks four days earlier; indeed, the same dancers carry the beast. After nearly an hour ofcontinuous performing, when they are nearing total exhaustion, the cravwe gangan retires to the edge ofthe arena, making way for the emedjo, the children-ofthe-spirit, who have been waiting in a far corner. Swirling in concentric circles and bobbing up and down,the"children" sweep into the arena and execute tightly controlled quick steps,dancing as though floating(fig.62).Two or three ofthe six may dance in unison, while the rest move as individuals. Suddenly one may dance near a par126
Fig. 63 The senior mask for Ohworhu, depicting inene ode, "the mother of us all," in the shrine for Ohworhu. Evwreni 1972. Fig; 64 "The Mother of us all," (inene ode) making her ceremonial walk across the arena at the culmination of the Ohworhu festival. Evwreni 1972.
ticular family group assembled at the side, where to their cheers it executes a delicate series ofgestures. The "children" perform for about twenty minutes before the cloth forms come out. Again, the names and dances ofthis group parallel those ofthe lesser masquerades ofthe Little Sun performance and are worn by the same men. Again, Amakasavwo and Utecheruvo appear singly while Ititigbogbo appears as a pair. Scarf-covered central poles range above white hoop frames below. Taking advantage ofthe height ofthe poles, the dancers swing them dramatically from one side to the other, making the silk scarves trace arcs ofbrilliant color through the air. First on one foot and then on the other,they perform loping hop-steps in time to complex drum patterns. Mounted on the tops ofthe emedjo and ofthe lesser masquerades are various motifs chosen by the particular families who have inherited responsibility for each ofthe forms.These emblems are intended to control any potentially harmful spirits attracted to the arena during the festival. One is a conical fish-trap(use); another a freshly cut piece ofplantain (orhen); still another,crossed bundles of broom-twigs (asha). The fish trap captures waterbound spirits; the plantain absorbs air-bound spirits; the broom sweeps away those spirits that come to the ground. On one level the festival performances for Ohworhu are events ofgreat happiness and joy, but they are also moments ofextreme ritual danger. Unless the dancers are protected against malevolent spirits, they can be "taken" into a powerful and destructive possessive state. Stories are told ofpoorly protected dancers at past festivals who have become possessed by harmful spirits and, totally losing bodily control, have run wildly through the town and eventually gone insane. Devices such as the fish trap, plantain, and brooms protect the dancers from such terrible fates and help to ensure successful performances. Throughout the performance, and in fact since early morning, the image ofOhworhu herselfhas been seated in a distant corner ofthe arena.She sits quietly, observing all that transpires without moving. Standing beside her is a young man holding a small bowl ofchalk, which is intended as special food for the senior spirit. Ohworhu's costume repeats that of the Faithful Servant who appeared at the Little Sun performance: a white cloth envelops her body,long tresses oftwisted dry raffia hang from her head,and in her right hand is the tall thin walking stick. (fig.64). But her mask is different and its visual impact is stunning.The entire image is whitened with layer upon layer ofchalk;slit like eyes are crowned by a sweeping,elongated forehead. Years ofcareful chalking have softened the mask's lines.'' Following the pattern of the first day's performance, all action abruptly stops when the moment arrives for the senior spirit to make her appearance. Upon a call from the drums, the arena goes silent as she rises and executes her majestic walk up to the priests and singers. As she walks, the senior priest calls out the same praises that he did to her Faithful Servant. Ohworhu herself is appearing; the spiritual and dramatic apex is at hand. Once she receives the priest's blessings, turns slowly, and returns to her seat, a tumultuous cry goes out from all:"Ohworhu has come! Ohworhu has blessed us!"(Ohworhu kpo! Ohworhufi ho k'avware!). The drums come alive once more as the Fish Eagles swirl into the arena, this time in clothcovered hoop-and-pole form. Once again the raffia "mother" and "children" simultaneously rush to the center, as ifthey could not be restrained from showing their happiness at the spirit's acceptance ofall that has been provided for her. Then,suddenly, it ends. The drums stop and a cry goes out:"The year ofOhworhu is here!" (Ohworhu edjukpe!). Ohworhu and her followers have been summoned; they have come to town to receive the praise of Evwreni. Images and dances of intense artistic skill and profound religious belief have entertained the spirit during two days of high drama. Entertainment of the spirits stems from imitation ofthe spirits, initially by means ofwooden spirit-faces, then, in its supreme moment,by means ofspirit-environments constructed ofraffia and cloth. Now the edjo must leave, and quickly. Immediately after the briefcries from the audience, the priests, drummers,and singers leave the arena (fig. 61). In single file goes first the "mother" image, then the raffia "children," then the cult executives. With the drums repeating a four-
phrase pattern, they walk in a slow procession through the town. Thus the edjo are escorted out oftown to the waterside. Townspeople line the road and call farewell to the spirits whom they have honored, and who now return to the distant waters from which they came. For four days, the raffia creations are left alone in a secluded grove on the outskirts of Evwrcni, on the banks of the Eghwu River. Then, as part of the closing ceremony for Ohworhu,the senior officials ofthe cult meet at the waterside to perform the ceremony called edjenekpo, literally "the leaving of the spirits." They dismember the raffia forms and fling the vegetable fibers onto the waters to shouts of "Ohworhu edjukpe!"(The year of Ohworhu!). As the current carries the raffia downstream,away from Evwreni, the officials cast further offerings ofgin and powdered chalk into the waters; these final gifts will travel downriver along with the masquerade forms themselves. In this metaphorically direct manner,the spirits ofwater are put back into their own environment,from which they were invited at the beginning ofthe festival. Later the same day, every quarter ofEvwreni celebrates the closing ofthe festival. Groups of men and women,dressed in outlandish attire,stage competitive dancing and singing bouts; men and women alike brandish swords,cutlasses, hand brooms,and clubs. Younger people appear in a wide variety ofexotic dress: motorcycle helmets, top hats, leatherjackets. One young man wore a broken calabash for a hat;one woman wore what appeared to be a World War II aviator's cap.The men assemble at one end ofa compound,the women at the other. They dance forward,directing songs ofderision and abuse at each other. For the moment, all the decorum and balance ideally common to Urhobo society is lost. Jeering, pushing,and splashing into mud puddles, the townspeople carry on with extravagance. These final moments ofthe Ohworhu festival present a spectacle ofnear-delirious public exuberance. They bring to Evwreni a release, indeed liberation, from the pressures and obligations that the festival has brought to bear. One man called our in midst ofthis display,"Oh,thank God it's over!"(Akposhene, kene!). In this remark lies a fitting closing comment: Ohworhu has come; Ohworhu has been praised; Ohworhu has returned to the waters. During this time, Evwreni has been in a potentially dangerous position, and the community has survived the encounter. To bring the edjo to town is to compromise the balance between earthly and spiritual realms. Were the festival not performed properly, to the satisfaction ofthe spirits, terrible disaster could befall Evwreni. Now that Ohworhu has gone back to the waters, normalcy has returned,and since the festival has been completed without misfortune, Evwreni can truly celebrate. Ohworhu in Other Communities At Evwreni,the spirits ofthe deep waters are attracted and then entertained by two types ofsculptural ensembles: wooden face masks and constructions made ofeither raffia or cloth. Ohworhu also exists in other southern Urhobo communities. The data from those sites are less complete than those from Evwreni, but much can still be learned by considering some ofthe variants. Some twenty miles north of Evwreni lies the town ofOtogo, the central community ofthe Ogo village-group. Here, in October 1971, a small off-year performance was held to honor z8
Fig. 65 Festival for Ohworhu in small form (Little Sun, or Uvo Tete). Ootogo 1971.
Ohworhu.On this occasion, four masked dancers came to greet Ovie Adjara II, one at a time, at his meeting hall." After retiring to a secluded forest shrine to make a brief offering, they performed for perhaps an hour at the edge ofthe market to a small crowd ofabout loo people (fig. 65). Musical accompaniment was provided by two drums ofthe types seen at Evwreni: a cylindrical membrane-drum and a large wooden gong. Three ofthe masks were very similar to those seen at Evwreni; the only apparent difference was that one ofthe three had a pair ofsmall circular mirrors on its upper superstructure. These masks were called Omotokpokpo,a term ofpraise for young women,literally meaning "girl-with-youthful-freshness." The fourth mask, painted a striking red, seemed to violate the accepted norms for the Ohworhu mask. With a much broader face that did not recede at the cheek line but instead swelled outward, this visage was the Herbalist-Diviner(obo). Its mouth too was rendered most unusually:distorted to one side,it protruded from the base ofthe mask's"hand,"sited below the chin line. It seems likely that this visage ofarcane herbal power was intentionally rendered in violation ofthe normal canons of0hworhu art.The Herbalist-Diviner is not an edjo; he is rather an exceptional mortal who holds special prerogatives and spiritual responsibilities. Fearsome and ugly, his mask may allude to the dangers inherent in his work. The four masqueraders wore simplified versions ofthe costumes seen at Evwreni. Each was draped in a white cloth that entirely covered his upper body; in his right hand he brandished a freshly cut wooden stick. Anklets ofdried palm nuts encircled his ankles and added a delicate percussion to his dance. The small Ohworhu ceremony at Otogo was described by the Ovie as more ofan obligation than an actual festival. He noted that Otogo had not held a large Ohworhu celebration for"more than two decades," and cited lack ofmoney as the main reason for the long hiatus.The small festival, according to the Ovie, provided Ohworhu the necessary honor; a large feast would be held when money was available.
3. 4. 5. 6.
7. 8. 9. 10. 11.
A preliminary account of this festival was published by the present writer in Perkins Foss, "Festival of Ohworu (sic) at Evwreni," African Arts 6, no. 4(Summer 1973): 20-27, 94. Many Ohworhu masks vividly confirm the special role of women in the rites of this water spirit: above the forehead of the masks stands a single female figure, flanked by a pair of messenger birds (ass) that spread the powers of the spirit over the waters. Oviede Aramuemu Aki, interview of June 28, 1972. I am indebted to Oviede for a large part of what I learned concerning Ohworhu; in addition, his hospitality at Evwreni made my research there a truly pleasurable experience. Ibid. The configuration of medicines-plus-bells worn at the waist recalls the similar devices on many of the large statuesfor-the-spirits (edjo re akare) discussed elsewhere. The priests and their assistants responsible for the observance candidly admit that the meanings of many of these masquerade names have been lost in the passage of time. In other cases they can at best only speculate about titles handed down through myriad generations. Professor Onigu Otite, in a personal communication of May 1974, added to this interpretation: The term alludes to a totally reliable servant, one who always can be counted on, no matter how difficult the task." The allusion here to neighboring village groupsâ€”Eghwu and Ughienvweâ€”refers to the Ohworhu cults existing at these sites, reinforcing the notion of Ohworhu as a pan-Southern Urhobo phenomenon. The adage "Edjo n'ame rhe" is worth remembering: The spirits come from the water." Emeha reputedly brought this very mask, lnene-Ode (mother-of-us-all), from the deep-water area. Whether this is the actual mask brought from oku or is a replacement, it is in this mask that the spirit of Ohworhu exists on this day. Thanks go to His Highness Adjara II, the Ovie of Ogo, for the many kindnesses he extended during the Ohworhu performance at Otogo. See also Appendix II for a chronicle of the Ohworhn rites at another community.
On Markin3 and Masking in the Art ofBruce Onobrakpeya ;OHN
Body marking is a corner-stone in African art BRUCE ONOBRAICPEYA,1992
to have emerged in West Africa during the twentieth century, with a continuing and commanding influence on the generation ofartists in Nigeria who have come to maturity in the postcolonial period. Where else than in Nigeria would the celebration ofan artist's seventieth birthday,in zooz, be an event of national importance, widely reported in the media? This essay will consider aspects of Onobrakpeya's work in relation to a history ofart in Africa,on the one hand,and to the sources ofhis work,on the other. Writing about an exhibition of Nigerian art contemporary with the celebrations of Independence in 1960,Ulli Beier noted that"the greatest surprise ofthe exhibition was a group ofyoung painters who are still students at Zaria Technical College." Onobrakpeya was one of those painters;and he would later write, BRUCE ONOBRAKPEYA IS AMONG THE MOST SUCCESSFUL ARTISTS
During the earlyyears ofthe Nigeria College ofArts, Science and Technology at Zaria(now Ahmadu Bello University),afew students came together under the name ofthe Zaria ArtSociety. Their mission was to examine how their study ofacademic art related to their society.... It is a story ofchange and continuity, a response to a call to movefonvard,to explorefrontiers with new techniques and ideas,andyet keepfaith with the ancestors whose legacy they were reshaping and transforming.: In Onobrakpeya's account there were eight ofthese students,including Uche Okeke,Demas Nwoko, Yusuf Grillo, and ofcourse Onobrakpeya himself Okeke described them as: "Young artists in a new nation,that is what we are!" Their society came to an end with their graduation, in 1962, but by then they were already the leaders ofan emerging postcolonial Nigerian modernism. The key was"Natural Synthesis," an idea that was the outcome oftheir deliberations as students and that dealt with the possibilities ofbringing together elements ofan inherited tradition and the novel forms and practices ofthe present time. It was a"synthesis" because that is what all art is,and it was"natural" because they wanted it to be neither forced nor contrived.To bring it about they looked first to the personal arts,and especially to traditions ofyouthful bodymarking that in their time were being made obsolescent by dress, and to textile design, masquerade,and myth and folktale. These sources constituted an extraordinary repository offorms, practices, and subject matters to draw on in an art that addressed current problems and possibilities,especially as faced by a newly independent nation-state freeing itselffrom colonial domination. From an art-historical point ofview,ofcourse, this was nothing new,for most art traditions(one thinks ofBenin plaques,Igbo Mbari houses,and Yoruba adire cloth) provide evidence for the necessity ofquotation in art. Moreover,although Okeke,Onobrakpeya,and the others may not have known it at the time,they were in a situation comparable to that faced halfa century earlier by the new gen-
Fig. 66 Bruce Onobrakpeya. Agbarha-Otor 1999.
Cat. 74 "Emedjo," 1990, by Bruce Onobrakpeya, Nigerian, b. 1932
Plastosraph print, water colors. 1o6x78 cm. Private Collection
eration ofartists in the modernizing enthusiasm oflate pre-revolutionary Russia, who reworked the modernisms of France and Germany using a distinctive local art history embodied in icon painting, folk art, Central Asian textiles, and so forth. The difference was that these young Nigerian artists faced an art-education system imported from the Britain ofthe 195os,and though that system offered new and valuable technical means, it could do nothing for artists intent on forging a sense ofNigerian national identity. The Zaria Art Society was the necessary response to their problem and Natural Synthesis the means to its solution. In this context we can understand why some ofOnobrakpeya's earliest work,completed when he was a student,dealt with the Urhobo folktale subject ofthe tortoise Ahwaire.4 He also illustrated Yoruba stories, including those ofthe modern writers Amos Tutuola, Wole Soyinka, and D.0. Fagunwa;5 the myths and rites associated with the Urhobo deities ofhis home area; and daily life in Urhobo.'He has also made work demonstrating his concern with environmental pressures, particularly in the sahel and savanna regions of northern Nigeria, in, for example, a series of prints making use of the form of the wrought-iron staffof the Yoruba deity Orisha Oko. This staff is regarded as a source ofhealing energy;in cult myth,it was found on farmland following consultation with a diviner.' Natural Synthesis was also the context for Onobrakpeya's own description of his 1992 print Emete Ayuvbi(Women Bathers at a Stream), in which he writes that the name ofthis work "refers to some beautiful women in Urhobo folktale ... our women exhibit beautiful body patterns like those found on adire cloth [Yoruba resist-dyed cotton], carved wooden figures or bronzes. Body marking is a corner-stone in African art.'" This is a particularly revealing statement, not just because of the artist's reference to his decorative sources but also because he suggests an equivalence among engraved surfaces(the body, wood,the wax used as the basis for brass casting,and the printing plate).This allows us to grasp the subtlety ofmeans whereby Natural Synthesis could provide for the successful reinvention ofan art for postcolonial Nigeria. Moreover,it reminds us how the sculptural traditions ofthe past showed us not the naked human body but the body as socialized through another and prior art.A significant element ofthe Natural Synthesis program was its basis in a distinctively African sculptural inheritance. Onobrakpeya's art is not only a dominant force in Nigeria's post-Independence modernity,it also reveals something we might otherwise not have noticed about the past, and about its continuity with the here-and-now. This is where the"masking"ofmy title comes in; for the performance ofa masquerade may or may not be about what is hidden but it is always about what is revealed,about the deities,or one's ancestors, or those in authority, or social and religious change, or mischief-makers, or the moral norms ofone's community, its understanding of performance, its aesthetic values, and so much more. The "marking" of my title thus works at two levels: the marked surface, ofcourse, but also the manner in which masked performances mark out all these things in the social world. We can find all this here and there throughout Onobrakpeya's work,together, ofcourse, with works that take masquerade as their overt subject matter.- In any case, what makes the work of particular artists distinctive is located not in the metaphysical ether ofPlatonic universals but in all the detail of how the work is done. Onobrakpeya has given us a corpus ofpaintings, prints, and sculptural installations over forty-five years; and his choice ofsubject matter, his formal clarity in the use of the human figure and in richly patterned surfaces,and his command ofthe printmaking medium are altogether unique and distinctive. Onobrakpeya emerged from his student days as primarily a painter. His first professional appointment, in 1963, was as the art teacher at St. Gregory's College, Lagos. Two major developments followed upon this appointment. The first, and more significant, was his attendance at printmaking workshops organized by Ulli Beier, the first in Ibadan 1963, the second in Oshogbo 1964, where his experience ofthe print medium was encouraged. Although he had learned about printmaking as a student,only now did it begin to take over from painting as his principal field of practice. It suited well the clear-cut forms of his chosen resources(body marking, textile design, 132
and so forth), it encouraged the development ofhis skills as an illustrator ofstories,and it allowed him to experiment and,through a happy coincidence ofaccidents, to develop his own unique set oftechniques." It also enabled him to produce works ofart in series,each ofwhich could sell for less than a painting, encouraging the development ofa local patronage for the new developments in Nigerian art. St. Gregory's College was the premier Catholic school for boys in Nigeria, and although Onobrakpeya is not Catholic himself, the other development that followed from his appointment at the college was a series ofchurch commissions.The first and perhaps most famous ofthese was the series offourteen Stations ofthe Cross commissioned by Father Kevin Carroll in 1967 for the church ofSt.Paul's in Ebute-Metta,on the Lagos mainland,in which the Passion narrative is set in the final days ofcolonial Nigeria in a series ofoil paintings,each ten feet in length by four feet in height. They are still there,as magnificent as the day they were painted." At the time they excited considerable controversy, given the then somewhat conservative attitudes of many Nigerian Catholics to the program of"Nigerianizing" the material culture of Catholic Christianity pioneered by Father Carroll-who,nevertheless, turned once again to Onobrakpeya to illustrate a religious-instruction textbook published in Yoruba in 1969." Other church commissions followed," including a lectern for the private chapel ofthe papacy's diplomatic representative in Nigeria. In due course, Onobrakpeya retired from schoolteaching to maintain his own studio, with its assistants and apprentices. In recent years, through the Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation, he has developed an art center in his home community,Agbarha-Otor, where he has organized a series of workshops enabling groups ofartists to work together over a period offour weeks." In conclusion, Natural Synthesis was a successful pragmatic practice, making possible a thousand different ways ofbeing African and modern. It was the genius ofthe Zaria Art Society that its members established ways in which cultural resources conventionally located within the paradigm ofethnicity could transcend local origins to serve wider interests and necessities. Modernities were always local and international,and Onobrakpeya's art has a proven capacity to assert Urhobo, Nigerian,and African social and aesthetic identities within an international art world.
Ulli Beier, "Contemporary Nigerian Art," Nigeria Magazine, no. 68 (March 1961): 31. See pp. 28-29 of this article for illustrations of Bruce Onobrakpeya's work of this period. 2. Onobrakpeya, The Zaria Art Society," in Clementine Deliss, ed., Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa (London: Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1995), P. 195. 3. Uche Okeke, "Natural Synthesis," in Deliss et al., Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa, p. 208. 4. See Beier, "Contemporary Nigerian Art," p. 45; Onobrakpeya, Bruce Onobrakpeya: 25 Years of Creative Search (Agbarha-Otor and Lagos: Ovuomaroro Gallery, 1984), pp. 9, 12, 13; and Onobrakpeya, Sahelian Masquerades (Agbarha-Otor and Lagos: Ovuomaroro Gallery, 1988), pp. 98-100. 5. See Onobrakpeya, The Spirit in Ascent (Agbarha-Otor and Lagos: Ovuomaroro Gallery, 1992), pp. 113-20; and his interest in illustration continues: see Onobrakpeya,: Portfolio of Art and Literature (Ovuomaroro Gallery, AgbarhaOtor and Lagos, 2003). 6. See, e.g., ibid., pp. 67-69, 81, 93; and Onobrakpeya, Symbols of Ancestral Groves (Agbarha-Otor and Lagos: Ovuomaroro Gallery, 1985), which is almost entirely given over to work based on Edo and Urhobo kingship, chieftaincy, and ritual. 7. See, e.g., Onobrakpeya, The Spirit in Ascent, pp. 54, 75, 147â€”though one might equally cite his entire corpus. 8. See especially Onobrakpeya, Sahelian Masquerades (Agbarha-Otor and Lagos: Ovuomaroro Gallery, 1988), p. 132. 9. Onobrakpeya, The Spirit in Ascent, p. 139; see also p. 60. 10. See, e.g., ibid. pp. 22, 23, 33. 11. See ibid. pp 35-36, and John Picton, "Tracing the Lines of Art: Prints, Drawings and Sculpture from Nigeria and Southern Africa," in Picton, ed., Image and Form: Prints, Drawings and Sculpture from Southern Africa and Nigeria (London: Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental and African Studies, 1997), p. 16; and Onobrakpeya, "Excerpts", in Picton, ed., Image and Form: Prints, Drawings and Sculpture from southern Africa and Nigeria, Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental and African Studies, London, 21-24. 12. See Onobrakpeya, The Spirit in Ascent, pp. 178-79, although the complete sequence has yet to be published. 13. Ki ljoba Re De [Thy Kingdom Come](Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Lagos, Ki ljoba Re De [Thy Kingdom Come] (Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1969). 14. See Onobrakpeya, The Spirit in Ascent, pp. 170-209. 15. For the latest of these see Onobrakpeya, Agbarha-Otor 2002. 4th Harmattan Workshop: Rhythms of the Forge (Agbarha-Otor and Lagos: Ovuomaroro Gallery, 2002).
Pride and Preservation: Urhobo Art and Culture in the Tvveny-First Centuly PERKINS FOSS
about how Urhobo people living outside of Urhoboland perceive their culture, and what their hopes and aspirations are. A few final works ofUrhobo art offer a succinct introduction to that discussion. Peter Ekeh and Michael Nabofa have described elsewhere in this book the close relationship that Urhobo see between the land of the living and the land of the dead, Akpo and Erivwin. Between these extremes is water,ame, which is seen as the conduit from one realm to the other. When a person dies, he or she is said to"travel on the waters."Should the family fail to hold proper funeral rites, it is believed, the spirits ofthe departed will remain on the waters as dangerous forces to mortals. Water is where gods and mortals meet. An Urhobo artwork vividly portrays meeting of the two worlds (cat. 75). Known as oko-reErivwin, or "canoe-to-Heaven," it constitutes a metaphoric description of the communication between mortals and spirits. Every Urhobo family group normally owns an oko-re-Erivwin,and uses it in various ways. At funerals, for example, the piece is positioned in front ofa compound, with attendant subsidiary figures, palm-oil lamps,and strips ofred and white cloth (fig.67). This temporary shrine facilitates the spirit ofthe departed individual in its crossing to Erivwin. On the last day ofa water-spirit festival,called edjenekpo(literally,"spirits going out") when the spirits are to travel back to their ethereal abode, the spirit-canoe is again brought out, this time to assist the spirit forces in their trip home.This return trip is critical: while the spirits are invited to attend festivities held in their honor, it is crucial that they leave this world in an orderly way and return home. Bruce Onobrakpeya has given us another vivid portrayal ofthe passage from this world to the other. Ada Erinvbin(Road to the Spirit World),"(cat. 86). His previously published commentary gives rich testament to Urhobo Urhobo folk tradition: LET US CONCLUDE WITH SOME THOUGHTS
In Urhobo cosmology, Erinvbin [Erivwin] is the abode ofthe dead, or of the undenvorld of those who have departed from the land of the living. Passage into this undenvorld is supposed to be possible only after one has died;yet instances abound infolktales of living people who went there and returned. Because no one can locate this land, talk less ofgiving directions the adventure which is long and hazardous requires extra sense to accomplish. Ada Erinvbin means the cross-road between the living and the dead.The picture shows a man lying down at the edge oftheforest where a trackless road, invisible to living people, is supposed to lead to the spirit world. He pretends to be dead in a bid to collect necessary travel information. After a talk on November 4,z000,in which I presented the canoeto-Heaven at the annual conference ofthe Urhobo Historical Society in Niagara Falls, Ontario, a lady offered a comment that initiated a wellspring ofresponses and ultimately offered valuable insight into
Cat. 75 Crest mask in shape of boat Wood. L.91.4 cm. Laura and James J. Ross
Fig. 67 A family preparing an oko-re-Erivwin or "boat-to-Heaven," on the occasion of a family funeral. Edjekota 1971.
contemporary Urhobo attitudes toward their own culture.She said, "Well, thank you for your presentation, but you know, I am an Urhobo, but also, I am a Christian, and we do not believe in such things. Indeed lam rather afraid ofthem." Our group offered a variety ofopinions on this remark,some being outspoken in their opposition to it: "Well, I am a Christian too, but I disagree," said one speaker."These photographs, these dances, these images-they were what my grandparents and great-grandparents believed in, and I want to know more about my past." The commentary took many sides:"Do we take pride in our past, or are we embarrassed by our past,and should we deny its value, as the missionary told us to do?" "Can we live with our past? Do we want our past?""My children were born in the U.S., and are embarrassed when they hear their parents speaking Urhobo.""We must know our past, it's our only real future." At the same meeting I also showed two photographs, one taken in the Ughienvwe town of Oto-Edo in 1972 and the other in the Agbon community ofOvu Inland a few years earlier. The former showed a group ofthree young boys,assembled in a large clearing with their parents and extended family(fig. 1,Foreword p. 10). Each wore adornments highly unusual for a child: across their chests were strands ofcowries and elaborate assemblages of beads, along with numerous small containers ofprotective medicine.Their hair,cut close to the head, was dyed in sections of red and black. Each boy bore bands ofred cloth and cowries across his head, and protruding on left side ofthe head was a single white feather ofthe ugo biebi, the vulturine fishing eagle. The boys were dressed as i8bu(singular o8bu), warriors, their dress being similar to that worn by the adult warriors whom I showed in the other photograph (fig. 68). The latter were adults, authentic igbu. The single feather indicated that they had killed-in the honorable context of self-protection or battle. Why were the boys dressed as warriors,indeed as killers? The answer lies in a metaphor that vividly underscores the strength ofthe Urhobo notion of the balance between continuity and renewal. The boys are called sakpre8idi, children ofa fifth generation. They were attending the funeral oftheir great-great-grandmother, whom they were said to have "killed." Ofcourse they had not done so, but in the balance between this world and the other, between Akpo and Erivwin, it is believed that five generations cannot all live simultaneously without creating a tension that is only resolved when the eldest passes on. The boys were seen as heroes who had renewed their culture. A common Urhobo prayer ofblessing is "May you live to have sakpregidi." The Urhobo in Niagara Falls had opinions ofthese photographs too: they universally praised them,and fervently supported the continuation ofthe sakpregidi tradition and its like. All of them knew someone who had been sakpregidi as a child, and they remembered the excitement at the funerals where such children appeared. Here, traditions ofthe past were seen as having a significant role in contemporary life. The struggle faced by many Urhobo today centers on approaches to so-called "traditional" and "contemporary" culture. For that matter, what is "traditional?" The question of both preserving a culture and allowing it to live and change is full ofpitfalls, replete with denial and revisionism. Contemporary economic pressures have led to countless struggles over land ownership, particularly when it comes to negotiating for revenues from petroleum production.The Urhobo often look at their immediate neighbors in new and often, highly negative light,and social relationships often have shifted. In terms ofart, the distinction between the "old" and the"new" is often blurred. John Picton once commented to me that "all masquerade is contemporary," in that performers are constantly struggling to keep their style fresh, their dance styles up-to-date.
Fig. 68 A group of igbu (warriors) with Chief T. E. A. Salubi, Ovu Inland, 1967.
Cat. 76 "Ada Erinvbin (Road to the Spirit World)," 1976, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Nigerian, b. 1932 Plastosrapit print, water colors.79 x 53 cm. Courtesy ofthe artist
But on the other hand,some towns do not want masquerade dances to occur,since it is believed that they exacerbate tension between the youth groups and the elders. One idiosyncratic object-seen near Ughelli in 1972-brings the modern,industrial world into Urhobo spiritual life(fig.69).It was in the form ofa small urhievbe(destiny)figure that had been mounted on top ofa discarded oil drilling bit,ofa type that would have been used in the extraction ofcrude petroleum from this area ofUrhoboland. The three wheels ofteeth at the base of the bit had been marked with chalk The teeth-baring bit, then,had been converted into a modem iphri, one that presented a metaphor ofa modern force ofpower. Destiny stood above, aggression below,on the model often seen in older forms(cat.49). Various government efforts, some more successful than others, have sought to strengthen Urhobo culture. In the 1960s, Kenneth Murray, then the director ofthe Nigerian Department of Antiquities(now the Nigerian Commission for Museumsand Monuments),tried to establish a modest program whereby small amounts ofmoney would go to communities for the repair and maintenance of structures housing collectively owned shrine sculpture The fluids, Murray imagined, would purchase cement, metal roofing, and sturdy wood beams to rebuild shrines threatened by decay. The effort failed, however. In the three villages that entered into discussion with the Department,discord immediately developed over who would receive the funds,and still more vehement objection came from church groups who did not want the keepers ofedjo shrines to receive governmentsupport. In zoo'and again in zoo;on the other hand,the Urhobo Progress Union,with supportfrom the Delta State Government and the Shell Petroleum Development Corporation,organized a Delta State Cultural Day on the grounds ofthePetroleum TrainingInstitute in Effurun.Musicians,singers,stilt dancers,and children and adults alike competed for prizes.The event was well received,and is anticipated to be expanded in years to come.The reason that the Cultural Daysucceeded while the Murray plan failed stems from its secular nature While the steps and styles ofthe ikenike stilt-dancers constituted performancesfor edjenu,spirits-of-the-atmosphere,the events were presented in a different context,with a different audience. Anotherexample ofculturalchange in a positive direction is the Niger Delta CulturalCenter currendy being built in Agbarho-Otor (figs. 70, 71). The construction is funded by the Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation,which plans a museum,research facility,archive,and performance arena. The Center will also host annual workshops for artists in various media, coming not only from Urhoboland and neighboring communities but from Nigeria and elsewhere in the world. These workshops have already begun;currently in their fifth year,they are based on a similar program that Onobralcpeya attended twenty-five years ago at the Haystack Mountain School in Deer Isle, Maine. The Urhobo Historical Society, based in the United States with active support in Canada and the United Kingdom,is taking further steps to address issues ofcultural preservation and continuity.The Statement ofPurpose presents their efforts succinctly: Urhobo Historical Sociery was inaugurated in a briefceremony at LaGuardia Marriott Hotel, Queens, New York City,on August2.8, 1999.Its original aim wasexpressed in its motto:"Serving Urhobo History and Culture." Despite its rapid growth, the Society has stayed close to its original mission. Actually, it has expanded its mission by linking Urhobo history and culture to the larger context ofthe Niger Delta. Urhobo Historical Sociery has pursued itsgoals through two principal means.Thefirst is the organization ofits Annual Conferences.Thefirst two such conferences were held in North America and were relatively small. The third andfourth Annual Conferences were held in London, United Kingdom. Both ofthese were large events. In 2004, thefifth Annual Conference will be held in Urhoboland. These conferences have provided important plaq-orrnsfor the study and promotion ofUrhobo history and culture. The second vehicle ofUrhobo Historical Societyfor achieving itsgoals is through its Web sites. Thefirst two ofthese havegrown tremendously and are well regarded, particularly in academic circles. This is because 138
Fig. 69 A small urhievbe (destiny) figure mounted atop a steel drilling bit for oil that has been marked with chalk, and thus turned into a modern iphri. Otovwodo-Ughelli 1972.
they have largely beenfocused on documentation. In now launch* a third Web site, VHS expects to realize an expansion of its mission. We expect this Web site to build a community that allows several points ofviews, on Urhobo matters especially. We will encourage opinions and perspectives on Urhobo and Niger Delta affairs. The growth of the intemet in Nigeria has allowed such participation to bring together those in Nigeria and those others in the Urhobo Diaspora. It is the building ofsuch a commonly that is the principalgoal ofthis third VHS Web site. The Diaspora may seem to threaten the cultural cohesiveness ofthe Urhobo, but the emigres have organized and sustained many associations of different kinds to promote the social and political interaction offamilies and friends. The list of the cities that house such groups is testament to the Urhobo interest in renewing their heritage and culture: it includes Lagos, London,Brussels,Toronto,New York,Houston, Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. A fascinating turnaround is also in progress on another front. Going back a generation or two, the wealth of Europe, Asia, and the Americas seemed well on its way to overwhelming the modest attempts ofAfrican cultures to establish footholds in newly developing communications.In terms oftechnology,Africa was by and large being left behind. But now a paradox is emerging: the Urhobo and other peoples are turning to the Internet to promote their traditional cultures. Websites are allowing broadly based communications by individuals across frontiers. The flexibility ofthe culture,the ability to adapt and absorb,itselfoffers hope for the future. 1
-rttiI .1. I
log lett' yr:, VW'
Fig. 70 At the Niger Delta Cultural Center, while construction proceeds, a group of students takes a course in stone-carving. Agbarha-Otor 1999.
Bruce Onobrakpeya, The Spirit in Ascent, p. 84
Fig. 71 The Niger Delta Cultural Center, under construction. Agbarha-Otor 1998.
PRAISE POETRY FOR IPHRI
Ikpama Aduri, 1971
The following verses in praise ofiphri were recited by Ikpama Aduri, an iphri-owner,at his house in Edjekota,Ogo village group on October 8, 1971. The occasion was the annual serving ofhis iphri. Ikpama's recitation was first recorded on tape, then transcribed and translated by William Okorotete, with the help ofMerhiorhe Arhirhe. Professor William Oyaide,a native of Avwraka and a Professor Emeritus at the University ofBenin was kind enough to clarify and expand some ofthe more difficult passages. Professor Tanure Ojaide has offered additional editing. iphri me orhe na-oh orhe re emo orhe re otovwe orhe re omakpokpo iphri me orhe na ona orhe me ona orhe emo ona orhe re eya ona orhe re ovwodo ona orhe re emese iphri me orhe na iphri tore, tore! iphri me udi na-oh iphri me evwe na oh mi yeni yeti oghotere kerhe di oniovo ko oshare na su vwe miji suo oji dji djerhe ke vwe idjerhe rodje ke suo me rio wa ode eghene gba ke re oka okerio otere we ota no ko we erakon wo vo nurhe ono vo nurhe nune na, weje rhoma re yo fa ofa na, me ota me uvwevwi
My iphri, here is chalk,oh! Chalk for children, Chalk for long life, Chalk for young-body, My iphri, here is chalk. Here is my chalk, Here is chalk for children, Here is chalk for wives, Here is chalk for village, Here is chalk for ancestors, My iphri, here is chalk. Iphri-the roaster, the roaster! My iphri, here is gin,oh! [repeat same pattern as for chalk, above] My iphri, here is cola, oh! [repeat same pattern as for chalk,above] I lived and lived before Oghotere became my brother This man is leading me I am leading him He showed me the way I am showing him the way As I followed, it became as clear as [the kernels of] corn At a certain time You [iphri] asked for a dog To be given to you One has been given to you Today,you asked for another one [Regarding] the other [dog] I have sent[mes sage] to house [father's home]
ode rocha na, ke muocha eghini muo te tine erako na koya wo cha na na eravwe na koye wo cha na na ko ru vwo sivwe emo sivwaye ehwo re ebo anode koye eravwe mi vwo rho we ise ejobaro gba kowc ejobuko gba kowe omo uzo vwo ghwu rure ade vwo ohwo rhe obo obo se sivwi ko ghwa vuo obo sivwi kpo koghwa vuohwo na osivwi kpo ne ko ri igho ro yo tio en eni yi ovwa,iphri avwo ero na cruc,crue,erue,erue erururu re OMO mivwie ri odi kpe urhie koye vwo opia nana rhe igho kae ro re ko vreri ko kpo urhie ede re ro ye ra vwe opia obovo agbrara ghwe uloho opia di she to yoto opia na odi vwo rho we Iphri tore, tore! eriye otare opia we oyo iphri omo me vwe kpisodja besie egbono vwo she orovwo vuovuo-oo orovwo vuovuo tere oma-a iphri tore, tore! kpuyovwi re omame na meju vwe etine kpo rhovwodo oji vwe uwevwi kpo rhovwodo ke me chia mi tagbada re urhie okan ke teyi adeta ni suwokpori tene, tene ya, tene teja ufuo vuovo ki ghiwieri-o
Tomorrow,the other one will be brought to this place The dog [that] you are going CO eat The animal [that] you are going to eat Is the one for proecting children,for protecting wives People who are diviners want their name known Therefore I bring this animal to you Amen Let your elders be complete Let yourjuniors be complete Antelope's child never dies Ifa person is brought to a diviner Diviner[must]state ifhe cannot cure him Diviner[must]state ifhe can cure him When he has cured him He enjoys taking money Is it not so? So it is, iphri As we are living We are practicing, practicing, practicing, practicing Practice, practice, practice The child I gave birth to Left for far-away It is he who has brought this cutlass Money he was lacking He had to leave home for far-away His age-group aimed at him with a cutlass With one stroke lightning can fell an iroko tree He [the son] fells them with a single blow of the cutlass He brought the cutlass to you Iphri-the-roaster, the roaster! So it is said Here is your cutlass, iphri My child joined the Army When bullets were about Nothing scratched him Nothing touched his body Iphri-the-roaster, the roaster! My very own self I was sent from this place to another town Message sent from [father's] house to the other town I was asked to return [home] At the Okan river bridge I was challenged and asked if! would get home Yams, water yams and support sticks Are rooted in one motion
iphri gbudu,gbudu! ona evwe re emo,evwe re eya ona evwe me ri mi vwo rho we iphri eriyi atarhe
Iphri conquerer,conquered Here is cola for children,cola for wives Here is my cola Which I give to you,iphri So it is said
iphri gbe rhie ebo wo reyo evwe me iphri tore, tore ona evwe re emo meje uwevwi temete,temeshare
Iphri open up your hands Accept my cola Iphri-the-roaster, the roaster Here is cola for children I send out prayers for female and for male children Into the stomachs ofdistant towns Some havejoined the Army Some are women who have married there Have had children there The children are in your care Since grandchildren are the fat[the profit] ofhaving children Let [the fat of] my life reach my hand Should one not say so? Here is the cola for the fat-of-children All the family members Who are standing for you So that you can protect the world Protect the world One sits firmly So that you can protect the world As you protect both younger and older [children] Warning: being worried by hunger brings vexation Hunger makes you say what you do not understand Warning: this is the cola for him And for his children Let the younger [children] be complete Let the older [children] be complete Should not one say so? Iphri-the-roaster, the roaster!
evu re irhovwodo in kpe isodja emete ro kpe orovwe ero wo da vwe emo emo rho we kidie ivwromo eye ivwri re emo eje re akpo ome to vwe obo gbini ka te ne-ee? evwe na ena ivwri re emo asa re arue ugo oba re mudia ko we ani sun akpo wo se sun sun akpo anoyi ochedia gbegberegbe ani sun akpo wo se sun oyi sun obuko oyi sun obaro nighe: owenvwe ghwohwo ke emue ovwu owenvwe onerha tobo reje rien nighe: ona evwe royo-o ve emoroyo ejo obuko gba kowe ejo obaro gba kowe gbini ka te ne-ee iphri tore, tore!
OHWORHU-AME FESTIVAL: A CHRONICLE
ChiefOahenepeke,Ekpan Village, Uvwie Village Group October 1966
Izegbo married a wife by name Ogbor.She had a son whose name was Oviero. One day Oghor went to the Ekpan River to kill fish. As she threw in her fishing basket,she captured an earthen pot and she carried it home. At night, Izegbo her husband,dreamt that the earthen pot was a charm that could be used for bearing children. That it was the water spirit(Olokun)that gave it to her. And so Ogbor gave the charm to his son Oviero, who preserved it and worshipped it as a cult ofthe water spirit. One day, Izogbo dreamt and heard the water spirit saying,"I am a female water spirit. I do not belong to land. I should be worshipped as a water spirit." The spirit also appeared to Oviero in dream and sang a song,"I am now floating about in the sea which is my proper place." Mr. Oviero woke from his sleep and considered it necessary to prepare a canoe and put an effigy of Ohworhu into it and float it in the river. But as Ekpan river was not big enough, Oviero had to send it to Effurun river(Ekpokpo)and appointed Amranyi, the father ofthe late Edjelele, to be the priest and to perform the ceremony offloating the Ohworhu on the river. To get the Ovade community to participate in the floating ofOhworhu Effigy, the officiating Priest, Mr. Amranyi, sent 12/- [twelve shillings] and a bottle ofgin to the late Okpe, Ovie Okorovie, who was the Edjuvwie High Priest, to receive the spiritual sanction to perform the floating of0hworhu Effigy on the Effurun river. It has since been the custom that before the ceremony begins, this fee must be paid to the Edjuvwie High Priest. On the day when the first ceremony was to begin, the Ohworhu appeared to Amranyi, the priest, in a dream and revealed to him that at the close ofthe Ohworhu ceremony, the brooms used for performing the Ighovba dance at the ceremony,should be surrendered to the Edjuvwie High Priest, who in turn, would perform certain ceremony with them before the effigy can be lowered into the sea. At this ceremony, the Ovie, who is the Edjuvwie High Priest and the Iniyevboro, used to go to Afieki, to receive the three brooms themselves. During this ceremony ofreceiving the brooms, that would send the Ohworhu away,everybody that passes must open his hand and go bare-footed. It is customary that anybody who covers his head, or wears shoes would pay 1/- to the Ovie who is the Edjuvwie High Priest. As the floating of Ohworhu on the Effurun river became more and more interesting, and therefore,everybody takes part in the annual festival. In 1954, the Oviero-Ogbor ofIzegbo family of Ekpan had taken back the Ohworhu earthen pot and the traditional paddle used in floating the Ohworhu,on the canoe. They have appointed a priest to perform Ohworhu ceremony at Ekpan and since then, they have been floating the Ohworhu on the Ekpan river. As usual, the ceremony takes place in September and ends in October yearly. The present priest of the Ohworhu-Ame cult, is one ChiefOghenegweke of Udumuovbori quarter ofEkpan in Uvwie 1 44
has taught the History of Art at Dartmouth College and Plymouth State College. He has studied the culture of the Urhobo since the 196os first as an ethnographer for the Nigerian Department of Antiquities and subsequently on trips to this region,accumulating a lifetime ofscholarship on the Urhobo. He has been given two Urhobo chieftancy titles, the first in Orogun and the second in Evwreni. PERKINS FOSS
was a farmer,singer,lead dancer and expert on Urhobo folklore and traditional medicine. Born in about 1920, he lived in Edjekota,Ogo Village Group. He died in 1992.
GODINI GABRIEL DARAH,aWriterWhO
began as a scholar oftraditional oral history, has been an observer and participant in the shaping ofcontemporary African history as editor ofa newspaper,The Guardian and formerly ofthe Daily Times, both prominent publications in Nigeria,and as a frequent consultant to international development and policy groups on social and environmental issues in Africa and developing countries. He is on the senior staffofthe Governor ofDelta State. the founding Chair of Urhobo Historical Society and editor ofits three Web sites, is professor ofpolitical science in the Department ofAfrican American Studies at the State University of New York, Buffalo. Dr. Ekeh's most important publication is Social Exchan8e Theory: The Two Traditions(Harvard University Press, 1974). PETER P. EKEH,
Ohio,as a Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence. His area ofspecialization is African religion and culture, touching upon the interactions between African traditional religions and Christianity and Islam. fUdumuovbori quarter ofEkpan in Uvwie Village Group, was the senior priest of0hworhu for Uvwie. He died in about 1990. CHIEF 0GHENEGWEKE,0
professor in the Department ofAfrican-American and African Studies at the University ofNorth Carolina, Charlotte, is a writer and poet. Besides publishing numerous books ofpoetry, he has written extensively on African literature, poetry in particular.
TAN URE OJAIDE,
o N o BRA K pExA,artist and teacher, is one ofNigeria's living treasures. He became a Member ofthe Federal Republic of Nigeria(MFR)in 2002. His works hang not only in Nigerian institutions but those in countries around the world including the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. and the Vatican Museum,Rome. BRUCE
JOHN PICTON,Professor Emeritus ofthe School ofOriental and African Studies at the University ofLondon,is an archaeologist and art historian who has spent a lifetime studying the visual and material cultures of Africa, in particular those ofNigeria.
MICHAEL Y. NABOFA is a senior professor in the Department ofReligious Studies at the University ofIbadan,Ibadan,Nigeria. He has taught in the Department of Religious Studies,John Carroll University,
Glossary ada adjuju afieki aghwa agigor agogo aka akare akon akpo akpusi(or akpurusi) asa aso atarhe atete ayererivwi biko do cbo cdesemo edewo ediniemo cdjo edjo edjo n'amc rhc cdjocrivwi edjokpa edjoraghwa edjorame edjotor ehri ekaro ekpehre emaren emedjo enakpa cnhwen cnu cravwe crhi crhovwon erhu ese eshe ibebru ibekpe ibosu igbeton igcde igho ikcnike mine-ode iphri isene ivic iwu obiola obo
street fan market forest beads for titled chief bell Benin City figurative images tooth word ofthe living lineage mark that runs down forehead onto nose pygmy kingfisher night at birth tray for selling in the market spirit spouse please greeting medicine sacred day for men day ofrest sacred day for women divinities tutelary divinity "spirits come from water" unidentified spiritual beings ofthe departed spirit for palm-oil collection divinity that inhabits the forest water spirits spirit for the earth soul carving skull ceremonial meal ofpounded yam, plantain, cocoyam lit "children for the edjo" but in usage,"masker for the edjo" yellow clay breath oflife air animal spirit of pre-destiny prayer hat gifts ancestral altar cicatrix marks wing red cloth ancient hairstyle drum cowries, money dance on stilts mother-of-us-all personal image for aggression red beads worn at the neck Red-white-red forehead lineage mark cylindrical bead strength ofthe hand
" speaking-out "
diviner hand iphri-owner yellow(from omonoku root) red cloth praise name staffofoffice supreme being "God,you have done well" newboldia tree,sacred to a new site tall narrow drum for Ohworhu family compound hall town meeting hall chief drummer title-holder palm fronds mother ofspirits mother-of-children chalk bride small cylindrical bead bird cutlass festival shrine witchcraft, wizard antelope priest spear color black - root ofplant pre-European black MOW spokesman MOM good health and longevity otovwe hereditary leader ovie red ovwara expert,a skilled person owena black ubiebi gin udi dance with ritualized satirical songs udje body ugboma fish trap uge death ughwu white fishing eagle ugo fuafo ethereal body uhoho cup uko bride's attendant ukopha(pl. ikopha) ivory bracelet, work by the wealthy ukoro(pl. ikoro) medicinal calabash ukorogho(ukokorogho) white cloth ukpebo (executives for unugbedjo(pl. inugbedjo) Ohworhu) destiny urhievbe river urhie destiny fate urhienvwe head,face uyovwin
oboefa obor odiphri odo ododo odovah ogbu(pl. igbu) oghenc oghene worhuruo oghriki ogri ogwan ogwan ovworho ohovwore(pl ehovwore) okwa olorogun (pl. ilorogun) omwen oni edjo oniemo oorhc opha ophara ophran opia ore orhan orieda orua osedjo oshue
" -the-spirit mouths-of "
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Latasha Wilson-Brown Lawrence Kendle
MUSEUM FOR AFRICAN ART 36-01 43rd Avenue,Long Island City,NY 111.ot www.africanamorg SNOECK Publishers Gent,Belgium
The first major catalogue devoted to the art and culture of the Urhobo people of the Niger River Delta in Nigeria.
Published on Feb 4, 2016
The first major catalogue devoted to the art and culture of the Urhobo people of the Niger River Delta in Nigeria.