Yoruba statuettes

Tuesday 25 March 2008 by Brad

The history of the Yoruba, a tribe living between Nigeria and Benin, can be retraced from the beginning of the 20st century with the Ife civilisation. Following their falling a certain amount of kingdoms like the ones of Ijebu (1500-1750) and Oyo (1680-1830). This last one was directed by an emperor, called alafin, who served as a supreme judge. His power was offset by a council of seven chiefs, each one at the head of a non royal family. From the 17th century, the Oyo extended their territory thanks to their … Themselves they had been disintegrated during the 18th and the 19th century but had been reincarnated/rise from the death by the colonist power at the end of the 19th century. Today they are still at the base of the politic structure of the Yoruba.

Another political and religious power of the Oyo was constituted by the Shango cult, the god of the thunder, fourth alafin of the Oyo dynasty, was recognized as god by his faithfuls. The myths that surround him express the dangerous and ambiguous character of the power of the king. Despite his association with political power, the Shango cult spread out, after the decline of the Oyo kingdom, in all the yoruba kingdom. The Shango myth teaches that the force, to become fertile, must be controlled : the yoruba idea of energy (ashe) involves the concept of the character (iwa) and of the mystic calm (ititu). Ambiguity and duplicity aren’t only the prerogative of the Shango, but, also of the women. The positive dimension of fertility is made by maternity, which insures perpetuation of life and, with it, the affirmation of the community. It’s Shango whom insure fertility; that’s why women speak to him.

This link between the god of the thunder and fertility makes also Shango the protector of the twins which birth is considered as a good event. The twins’ statuettes (ibeji) are sculptured when one of the two children died and is made to keep his soul. One of them is indeed considered the double spirit of the other, whose place is with the gods. If he dies, a soothsayer asks to replace the deceased by a statuette which doesn’t really represents the baby but the adult he would have become (see picture n° 1) and is also required to be dressed and feed. Therefore the mother ritualistically cares for him to keep him calm and ensure his kindness.


photo n° 1
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