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On Artifact and Identity at the Niger-Benue Confluence

John Picton

African Arts, Vol. 24, No. 3, Special Issue: Memorial to Arnold Rubin, Part II. (Jul., 1991), pp.

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Fri Jan 25 12:44:20 2008
On Artifact and Identity J

at the
Niger-Benue Confluence

diate and more relevant than whatever process. Time and time again, when we E t in arcadia ego
it is we think we mean by the use of an find the same kinds of artifacts in use The photograph in Figure 2 was
"ethnic" label.3 Indeed, this paper is among neighboring populations of dis- taken on New Year's Day, 1970, in
about the continuing need to stop think- tinct language, political affiliation, or Lagos. Arnold Rubin is among a
ing that such terms inevitably signify whatever, we habitually note that here group of people who had come to
the boundaries of categorically distinct is something that has crossed an ethnic know him, to like him, and to love
populations. We must learn instead to border. But surely, if the distribution of him. He had arrived in Nigeria to set
understand how individual people, a particular kind of artifact is not con- up a further period of field research
households, and communities build strained by the boundaries of language in the Benue valley; his family
their identities with one another, and or political affiliation, then it is more would soon be joining him. The
understand the place of artifacts in that precise to note that such boundaries do others in the photograph are, left to
right: Andrew Ogembe, my field
assistant, now also, sadly, no longer
living; Margaret Picton, my mother;
Susan Connell, later my wife, whose
work in Akoko-Edo provides much of
the data summarized here; and
Richard Osuagwu, who organized
and took the photograph, and who
looked after us all.
Before Arnold arrived I had
studied his contribution to the Lagos
Museum archive (often referred to
these days as the Kenneth Murray
archive, because he, of course, started
it). During his time in my Lagos
apartment, we talked for hours and
hours, comparing research
experiences and sorting out the
future of African-art studies. Arnold
went on to do something about it,
whereas I continued thinking about
those conversations: indeed,
although William Fagg taught me to
look at African sculpture, it was
Arnold who taught me to think about
it. Twenty-seven years later, Arnold
arranged for me to teach at UCLA
in the 1987 fall quarter. The
conversations resumed, and the Ebira
papers I have written since then are
the result.


T his paper is about a region of
Nigeria west and south of the con-
fluence of the Niger and Benue rivers,
some 80 kilometers from east to west
and some 120 kilometers from north to
south (Figs. 3,4). Its population includes
the most northeasterly of Yoruba-speak-
ing groups and, to their south, diverse
communities of people, many grouped
into the administrative unit now called
Akoko-Edo Local Government Area,
who speak several mutually unintelligi-
ble Edo-related languages. The diversi-
ties of language notwithstanding, these
communities each have a social struc-
ture based upon lineages crosscut by
age grades leading to the taking of titles.
The social and cultural details, of
course, may vary considerably, but this
variability subsists within that common
pattern nevertheless.' However, at some
point in the past, Ebira people moved
into the territory between these Edo and
Yoruba communities, speaking a lan-
guage related to neither and bringing a
lineage-based social order otherwise
lacking the distinctive features of their
neighbors.2 Then, throughout the whole
region one finds Uneme smiths, a dis-
tinct Edo-speaking group, largely en-
dogamous due to their depressed status.
Finally, one must take into account the
Nupe marauders who overran much of
the area in the late nineteenth century,
soon followed by British marauders in
the early twentieth.
Whatever the differences of language
and of social order, however, the pres-
ence of relationships through trade,
intermarriage, and oral tradition pro-
vides for a sense of identity between
diverse communities that is more imme-


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not exist for that artifact, and perhaps ethnic or "tribal" labels, and of the need understood as no more than a slipshod
for the institutions of its manufacture, to understand the sense of identity from representation of the complexities of
use, and distribution. People live simul- within, rather than continually impos- individual and social identity.
taneously within several dimensions of ing it from without, constitute part of The artifact traditions of the region
relationships, and the boundaries exist- my contribution to that long-running include textiles, pottery, sculpture, met-
ing in one dimension will not and need and still essentially unresolved debate alwork, and masquerade. Some are com-
not necessarily coincide with the bound- about relationships between aesthetic mon to the entire area, others are
aries within another. Moreover, the categories and social categories (e.g., distinctive of particular localities, and
boundaries and identities signified by or Bravmann 1973, Kasfir 1984, Vansina yet others exhibit continuity well be-
embodied within one set of artifacts can 1984).The continued use of words such yond the region under discussion. There
be denied by others. Recognition and as Yoruba and Ebira in this paper is a may be no obvious fit between the dis-
discussion of the frequent irrelevance of convenient shorthand, but should be tributions of certain artifacts, languages,
or social institutions. For example, Ebira Edo-related, but including some unclas- I remember a negotiation between fish-
masquerades have been widely copied sified languages. (Indeed, without Susan ermen whose first language was
by surrounding non-Ebira commu- this paper could not have been written.) Urhobo and a district head whose first
nities.4 It seems that we still know all To the southeast of Ebira is the area language was Ebira, for rights to fish
too little about the process whereby a known as Etsako, also Edo-speaking. where the inhabitants' first language
sense of identity is mediated and con- The riverain eastern border is occupied was Igala.
structed by and with and within arti- on both sides of the Niger proceeding The languages of the confluence area
facts. This is an urgent and potentially downstream from Lokoja first by Basa- (see Hansford, Bendor-Samuel & Stanford
highly productive area of field engage- ngge communities and then Igala. To the 1976; Fig. 5) are currently regarded as
ment, likely to reveal significant point- east, along the Benue valley, the Basa- Niger-Congo languages and classified as
ers to the formulation of interpretive ngge area marches alongside Basa- Kwa languages, with the following four
models for the writing of history. kwomu (i.e., "true" Basa); communities exceptions: Basa-kwomu, the "true" Basa,
The identification as Yoruba of the known as Basa-ngge are in fact Nupe, in placed within the Western Plateau group
most northeasterly of Yoruba-speaking which language the name apparently of Benue-Congo; and three unclassified
communities is based at least as much means, "We are not Basa" (Gunn & languages4gori-Magongo, Ukaan, and
upon linguistic analysis as on broader Conant 1960:72, n. 1). Fishermen from Akpes. The Kwa languages are classified
cultural continuities, for the importance almost everywhere also seem to be here. as follows: the Yoruba group (including
of a specifically "Yoruba" identity is in
itself a phenomenon emerging within or
following upon, and as a consequence is
a phenomenon of, the colonial period.
This is not to say that "Yoruba" is a colo-
nial invention-far from it-but the pre-
colonial bases of what has emerged as a
specific Yoruba ethnic identity are still
far from clear. These communities form
a series of "mini-states" (Obayemi 1976:
201-9; the map he gives is particularly
clear) known as Iyagba, Ikiri, Abinu,
Oworo, Igbede, and Ijumu (including
Owe). During the colonial period these
were grouped together around the
administrative base of Kabba. To the
west, Iyagba and Ijumu march with the
Igbomina, Opin, Ekiti, and Akoko
regions. To the north, Iyagba, Ikiri, and
Oworo march with Nupe-speaking peo-
ples. To the east this area is bounded by
the confluence and the lower Niger. To
the south, Ijumu (in particular, Ogidi
and Owe) and Abinu once evidently
marched with a variety of Edo-speaking
peoples, until these latter were pushed
to the south by Ebira. The boundary
between the lands of Owe and Ososo,
the most northerly of Akoko-Edo settle-
ments, once passed through the middle
of what is now Okene market, Okene
being the administrative center for Ebira
established by the colonial regime.
People calling themselves anebira (i.e.,
people of ebira, a word that refers to the
outward manifestation of a beneficent
destiny) have come to occupy a very
roughly triangular area of some 64 kilo-
meters coming inland from the lower
Niger by some 64 kilometers at the
riverain eastern side. To the southwest of
Ebira is Akoko-Edo, a modern adminis-
trative grouping of a number of commu-
nities whose inhabitants speak some
half-dozen mutually unintelligible lan-
guages, as Susan Picton found, mostly


while those of Ogbe and Semorika do these categories cannot be ignored.
not. Indeed, Okpameri is said to be a Indeed, they need further investigation,
made-up term (meaning "We are one") for in themselves they represent a history
not in use much before the middle of the as yet to be written.
present century. Before that, while people Standing in contrast to these repre-
recognized that they spoke a common sentations of identity and difference is
language, there was evidently no sense of the network of markets. For example,
a need to assert a named common identi- the pottery-making center of this area is
ty. On the other hand, Makeke, Oja, the Okulosho village of q a , whose pot-
Dagbala, and Ojirami at the eastern side ters carry their wares for sale at local
of the Okpameri-speaking area did markets, including nearby Ososo, and
regard themselves as in some sense a Igara twenty-four kilometers to the
unity, but they called themselves Oku- southwest. Susan Picton noted that the
losho, not Okpameri. Then, Onumu, situ- potters would stay the night at Enwan,
ated between Ojirami and Semorika, the village adjacent to Igara, in order to
regarded themselves as akin to Oku- arrive at the market at the crack of
losho, but not part of it, and certainly dawn. Neither Ososo nor Igara nor
separate from Semorika, Ogbe, Ogugu, Enwan is Okpameri or Okulosho. Oja
and Okpameri. The sophistication of pottery evidently mediates at least one




eleven Akoko languages and Igala), eight

North-Central Edo and four North-West
Edo languages, Ebira, and Nupe (includ-
ing Basa-ngge).5
Each of the paragraphs that follow,
regarding Okpameri-Okulosho, Ososo
and Ebira, and Uneme exemplifies a par-
ticular problem, question, and dimension
of that sense of identity-its creation,
expression, representation, affirmation,
maintenance, subversion, and so on-
that cannot be grasped simply in terms of
language, social institution, or political
affiliation. Although these latter factors
must also be considered as part of the
matter of identity, each is capable of pro-
viding for alternative and perhaps con-
flicting dimensions of it.

Okpameri and Okulosho. Susan Picton

found that the language I have listed as
Okpameri is spoken in an area compris-
ing some twenty-three villages (Fig. 6 ) .
Some of these are relatively recent settle-
ments beside the main road with an
aboriginal village still maintained on the
original hilltop site, as in the case of
Ogbe-Oke and Ogbe-Sale (whose suffix-
es derive from the Yoruba words for
hill/upper and lower; this in itself rep-
resents the use of standard Yoruba as a
medium of education). However, the
inhabitants of Ogbe regard themselves
as quite distinct from the rest of the
world, even though they recognize his-
torical and linguistic affinities with
Ogugu to their north and Semorika to
their south; the inhabitants of Ogugu
regard themselves as part of Okpameri,
dimension of the economy of the area, 10. WOODEN DOOR.
, (ISHUA?) ONDO STATE, 1964.
with Oja pots and potters embodying
and representing a "community" be-
tween diverse settlements, differences of 11 DETAIL SHOWING FIGURES
language notwithstanding. However, I THAT EMBELLISH A WOODEN BOWL
am not at all certain how far to the north COLLECTED BY KENNETH MURRAY
Oja pottery is distributed. Certainly the AT SEMORIKA, AKOKO-EDO. IN 1947.
markets within the Ebira-speaking area
are dominated by pots and potters from
the western Ebira community of Obo-
roke. These two pottery-making centers
are clearly separate technical traditions
employing very different methods of
manufacture. Oja pots are built up in
rings and fired rapidly (see Susan
Picton's photographs in Fagg & Picton
19701, whereas at Oboroke the clay is
pulled rather than built up and is then
fired over a longer time.

Ososo and Ebira. Ososo, in the north-

east of the Akoko-Edo region, is a small
town with its own language. The satel-
lite village of Egbetua with which it
shared a common identity, history, and
language is now largely deserted, its
inhabitants having moved to Ososo. I facilitated by the oral tradition of Ehebe-
have already referred to the tradition Ososo familiarity, whatever its present
that Ebira people pushed Ososo and interpretation on either side. Each of PHOTO JOHN PICTON
Owe apart as they began to settle in these elements supports and encourages
their present location, establishing their the others, thereby enabling and creating
rights in a series of feuds. However, one a sense of identity and community had come to characterize Ebira festivals
Ebira lineage, the "children of Ehebe," is between communities otherwise distinct. provided the justification for their pro-
well known in Ebira for its long-stand- The second consequence is that there scription, and this in turn provided the
ing relationships of trade and intermar- are Ebira people (i.e., men and women context for Ososo Christians to achieve
riage with Ososo. Ehebe is regarded as born and bred as anebira) who for rea- the abolition of masquerading with the
the Ebira ancestor who made peace with sons of marriage, trade, friendship, or additional justification that it was not an
Ososo after a series of feuds. In Ososo, perhaps as directed by an oracle, have aboriginal component of Ososo life.
however, the "children of Ehebe" are chosen, as adults, to live at Ososo, and Rather than denying the point that I am
regarded as a n Ososo lineage, the vice versa. Third, there are second-gen- trying to establish, however, this shows
descendants of those who stayed behind eration (or third-generation and beyond) the complexities of these histories. It
when most Ososo people moved south Ebira people born and bred at Ososo. remains to be seen whether masquerad-
to leave room for Ebira settlement. Although they are participants in the ing will be re-established in either place.
There is no way of resolving this ex- rites and grades of transition from child
planatory hiatus. My presenting one to elder that are distinctive to Ososo, Uneme (Ileme), the smiths. Scattered
party with the history provided by the and are also inevitable participants in throughout the region under discussion
other produced such great annoyance the likewise distinctive dual system of are villages and households of smiths
and dispute that no purpose was served, inheritance and descent, patrilineal and who regard themselves, and are so
other than to make me realize that the matrilineal, yet they retain a sense of regarded by everyone else, as different.
sense of common identity was main- identity as Ebira. A second-generation Their language, traditions of origin, prac-
tained precisely because no one attempt- Ebira is, of course, only "Ebira" in those tical skills, and depressed status consti-
ed to resolve the alternative traditions. circumstances wherein this definition is tute their difference from those other
The consequences of these histories needed. For most of the time, participa- people among whom they live. In Edo
are threefold. First, there are people in tion in the life of Ososo is such that "eth- oral tradition their ancestors were ex-
Ebira and in Ososo who are related nic" definition is irrelevant. However, pelled from the Benin kingdom, an event
through marriage; and I do not mean one medium and justification for main- that is taken as defining that ill esteem
Ebira "children of Ehebe" marrying taining an Ebira identity might be the from which they have suffered ever
Ososo "children of Ehebe," for these continuing series of rights and obliga- since.6 The present king of Benin has in
descent lines are exogamous. Rather, the tions in regard to people and lineages in fact rescinded their ancient banishment,
fact of common descent as a result of Ebiraland, recognized as applying to a but whether this will improve their status
intermarriage is a function of the tradi- second-generation Ebira person, Ososo is hard to imagine. For the moment, to be
tion of contact between otherwise dis- domicile notwithstanding. A further born into an Uneme household is still to
tinct communities. That tradition is consequence of Ebira-Ososo community inherit a despised status.
realized by means of trade at each derived from that Ebira sense of identity In Akoko-Edo, Susan Picton found
other's markets, which, together with signified by masquerade. Some fifty that there are five distinct Uneme vil-
visits at times of family celebrations years ago Ebira masquerading was lages: Ekpedo to the north between
because of existing marital bonds, pro- indeed established in Ososo. It was so Okpameri and Ogori; Uneme-Osu to the
vides the context and the possibility for popular that it came to provide a major east between Okulosho and Etsako; and
the marriage between people of one structuring basis of the Ososo calendar, Uneme-Nekhua, Uneme-Akpama, and
community and people belonging to until a couple of years ago when it was Aiyetoro, to the south of Okpameri and
other lineages in the other. All this is abolished. The extreme violence that Okulosho. Uneme households are also
13. DETAIL OF A STOOL PRESUMED TO BE OF Ebira at festival times and admired what
AKOKO-ED0 ORIGIN. IT SHOWS THE MARRIAGEABLE they saw were responsible. Third, a par-
ticular master smith was the source. In
THE FIRST "NATIVE AUTHORITY APPOINTED BY THE Ebira, smiths can be commissioned to
COLONIAL GOVERNMENT AT OKENEBA. OMADlVl HELD carve masks and hired to perform in
THAT POSITION FROM 1903 UNTIL HIS DEATH IN 1917. masquerades, but they cannot own
masks or masquerades, or indeed any-
thing that falls within the category of
is'ohiku ("things of ancestors"). One
FOR A WOMAN TO USE AT HOME. smith of my acquaintance, for example,
AHANECI, EBIRA. 1971 was fined for acquiring a pair of agidibo,
the cylindrical log-bells (often incorrectly
referred to as slit-gongs or slit-drums),
and they were confiscated from him.
Agidibo are beaten at every major cele-
bration in Ebira and are regarded as the
first item among the "things of ances-
tors" to be acquired by the head of a new
household. The restrictions placed upon
smiths in Ososo would not have been
the same as in Ebira and could not have
included a restriction on the ownership
of masks and masquerades, these not yet
- being part of the cycle of performances
at Ososo. The smith would have been
able to do what he could not have done
in Ebira: own his own masquerades,
Throughout Ebira, no freeborn man rather than merely be hired to carve
would touch any kind of metalworking, other people's masks and perform other
and there was simply no tradition of people's masquerades. By doing so per-
Ebira metallurgy or any remembrance of haps he hoped to improve the poor
a past tradition. In Ososo it was reckoned esteem of all smiths.
there had once been local smiths, but that It turned out, of course, that it was
with the presence of the Uneme, these impossible to resolve these contradic-
had long since disappeared. On the other tions. Such was the popularity of Ebira
hand, throughout the region it was clear masquerade that everyone wanted to
that freeborn local men as well as smiths claim its inception as his ancestors' or his
found in other Akoko-Edo communities, engaged in wood sculpture: in Ebira it lineage's own. Once again, the attempt
such as Ososo and in the towns and vil- seemed as if this was a practice copied by on my part to resolve the question of his-
lages of Ebira, and in many of the vil- the freeborn from the smiths. The point torical veracity was dangerously pro-
lages of the Kabba area. Uneme smiths here is that whereas metalworking is the vocative. The problem is essentially
migrated from Ekpedo throughout Ebira proper occupation of Uneme smiths, insoluble. In practice, people united in
and beyond, probably during the previ- woodworking was a more occasional pas- the enjoyment of masquerade without
ous century, attaching themselves to time, without the status attached to the the need to ask, let alone resolve, such
well-to-do Ebira patrons in the villages Uneme that would discourage the Ebira questions. The recent abolition of mas-
in which they settled. This patron-client would-be carver--and why pay a smith if querading is all the more curious given
relationship still exists; an Ebira house- you can do it yourself! The presence of this attachment and popularity.
hold elder will still refer to a descendant Uneme smiths, with their added involve- Some of the other artifacts that are
of the smith who had been the client of ment in woodwork, thus provides anoth- characteristic of the area discussed in
his ancestor as "my s m i t h with the con- er dimension of unity to the entire region, this paper, such as the staffs and stools
tinuing expectation of service, whatever more wide ranging than the distribution proper to elders and titled men, are
the present relative wealth of the two of Oje pottery, although it is a unity widely distributed throughout much of
households. standing in ironic contrast to their status the region to the immediate southwest of
By the 1960s there was no recollection as locally perceived. The further irony is the Niger-Benue confluence, irrespective
by the smiths of the procedure for smelt- that, given the relative durability of the of the radically different ways in which
ing iron other than that they had once smiths' equipment, in a future archaeo- that authority is defined and legitimated,
done it: their raw material was industrial logical context this misapprehension and irrespective, likewise, of the distri-
scrap. All manner of tools were produced. would be reinforced. bution of languages or the histories of
The most important by far was the hoe common identity such as those dis-
blade, essential for subsistence farming I now return to the question of the pres- cussed in the last few paragraphs. By
and serving also to define and embody, ence of masquerades in the Akoko-Edo this I mean that the shape, size, material,
together with masquerade, essential town of Ososo that sing in Ebira lan- and conventions in ornament and figura-
notions of Ebira masculinity.7 Uneme guage, dress in the manner of masquer- tive imagery have certain things in :om-
smiths also have a technique of brass ades in Ebira, and appear in a cycle of mon wherever they are found in this
plating iron,8 and they evidently were, performances like that in Ebira towns area, and that this distribution itself pre-
and continue to be, responsible for much, and villages. I found myself presented in supposes another kind of history
though not all, of the woodcarving 1982 with three explanations. First, Ebira embodied in the artifacts themselves.
throughout this area. Around Kabba, it people living at Ososo brought their Other kinds of artifacts, like certain
would appear that brassworkers were masquerades to Ososo, as indeed they masks, are distinctive of particular locali-
freeborn natives, whereas ironwork was have done in other Akoko-Edo villages. ties or have less widespread distribution
left to Uneme smiths (Krapf-Askari 1966). Second, Ososo people who had visited patterns. Certain other masks and mas-



tradition that cannot yet be defined in

I "ethnic" terms. Okene, established as
the modern administrative center for
Ebira, has become known during the
present century as a source of decorative
weaving using rayon, machine-spun
cotton, lurex, and industrially produced
dyes, with Okene market serving as the
,,,. focus for the distribution of Ebira tex-
tiles to other parts of Nigeria. The dis-
tinctive technical feature of these cloths,
, in addition to the range of yarns and
colors, is the use of supplementary-weft-
float patterns, often over a design
ground of warp stripes. It is evident
from the patterns themselves that the
design sources are multiple, though the
detailed history of these developments
remains to be investigated.
However distinctive Ebira weaving
might seem to be, especially when
viewed in markets and with traders far
away from home, it is nevertheless a
, very local development within a more
widespread handspun tradition already

querades provide for an eastward conti-

nuity, and yet other artifacts, like textiles,
a westward continuity. These distribu-
tion patterns suggest that the functional
relationships and emblematic status of
artifacts as contexts of ideas and prac-
tices, and as participants within (other)
contexts of ideas and practices, must be
regarded as specific to particular loca-
tions and people, historically and geo-
graphically. This specificity is where one
has to begin if one is to write a history of
art that touches upon the real lives of
real people. In summarizing the distribu- PHOTO JOHN PICTON

tion patterns, therefore, this paper is no 16 STOOL OF A DECEASED ELDER.

more than the preface to such a history. BY AN UNKNOWN CARVER WHOSE WORK IS
The dominant precolonial textile ADAVI-EBA, EBIRA, 1966.
technology of the confluence area is
within that tradition with a westward,
or Yoruba, distribution in which women 15. STOOL OF A DECEASED ELDER. CARVED BY
weave as a habitual domestic pursuit THE LATE IRACl OF OBOROKE. IRACI'S WORK WAS
using an upright single-heddle loom CLEARLY POPULAR. AS HIS HAND WAS VISIBLE IN
with locally spun cotton yam, brown as COMMUNITIES. THE COWRIES ARE A SACRIFICE ONE
well as white, and sometimes indigo OF THE DECEASED'S SONS IS SITING ON THE STOOL
dyed (Picton & Mack 1989:67-83). It is a PHOTO JOHN W T O N
18. FIGURE KNOWN AS OMOTO. her apprentices, and it would appear
WOOD PATINATED WITH BLOOD. 63.5crn. that this novel technology is proving to
BRIDE PRESENTING AN OFFERING TO HER be very popular at Oboroke; young
FATHER-IN-LAW, THE FIGURE IS CLEARLY MALE. women have expressed a desire to estab-
EITHER WAY, THE IMAGE HAS NO PRECEDENT lish themselves as weavers in this rather
IN EBIRA, HENCE MY ATTRIBUTIONTO than the single-heddle tradition.
IT IS AMONG THE REGALIA OF It is also tempting to assume some
THE OZUMl TITLE, OZlOGU LINEAGE. kind of formal continuity between the
OKENE. EBIRA. 1966. eastern Yoruba sculptural traditions of
Ekiti and Opin-in particular the large-
scale epa and aguru masks-and the
17. DETAIL OF THE STOOL OF OKINO. sometimes two-meter-high age-grade
IT SHOWS A MALE FIGURE WEARING ORNAMENTS masks located in a few Akoko-Edo com-
THAT. IN AKOKO-EDO. WOULD INDICATE HIS munities. However, the ritual status of
AGE-GRADE STATUS. (THE INSTITUTION OF AGE eastern Yoruba helmet masks as imonle,
GRADES IS ABSENT IN EBIRA.) 1967. or material embodiments of metaphysi-
cal energy, is clearly very different from
the display context in Akoko-Edo.
Moreover, the apparently sporadic dis-
tribution pattern of helmet masks with
monumental superstructures is not at all
comparable to the distributions of sin-
gle-heddle weaving technology or of the
emblems of age and authority. In other
words, if there is continuity it remains to
be established by field investigation.
The appearance of masq;erades as
part of the celebration marking the pas-
sage from one grade to the next in a sys-
tem of age stratification seems to be
widespread among the various northern
Edo groups (though not Ososo, for
know of, on the basis of my brief visit in example). Moreover, the members of
May 1990, concerns the arrival in Obo- one grade in particular have the respon-
roke, a western Ebira town, of Mrs. C. A. sibilities of masked performance under
Bamisaye from the Yoruba town of the guidance of those in the grade
Igogo near Otun-Ekiti in the mid-1980s. above. How much of this is also true of
Mrs. Bamisaye brought with her the nar- the various surrounding Yoruba-speak-
row-strip, horizontal, double-heddle ing communities is not yet established.
textile tradition that one thinks of as In the Opin village of Osi-Ilorin, I found,
characteristic of the professional male in addition to the status of Opin sculp-
weavers in central Yoruba urban centers tures as imonle, that although the young
in existence prior to the advent of Ebira such as Ilorin, Iseyin, and Oyo. Mrs. men of one particular grade were
people. In any case it is only one of sev- Bamisaye now has several Ebira girls as responsible for carrying aguru and epa
eral such local developments: weft-float masks, the performances were not part
patterns, for example, are also employed of age-grade celebrations as such. The
by many Akoko-Edo weavers, and by complete absence of age grades, and the
Owo weavers as well. Once again, the very different placing of masquerades in
detailed histories remain to be discov- Ebira culture has already been noted
ered. If one such textile is labeled (Picton 1988a, 1989). This absence of an
Yoruba and another Ebira, this cannot in age-grade context of performance is
itself be taken as presupposing anything equally the case in regard to masquer-
of significance beyond the presumption ades of Ebira derivation in the Kabba
that one was collected in a place where and Akoko-Edo areas, as far as I know.
people speak Yoruba and the other in a The basis of most northern Edo
place where people speak Ebira. No masked costuming seems to be a twisted
matter how different they may seem, netted fiber mask hung with lengths of
both are products, or local realizations, split fiber, or sometimes palm fronds, but
of the same technical tradition, which at with the arms and legs of the wearer left
the present state of knowledge can only free and visible. The intention, as far as
be located and considered in terms of the performer is concerned, does not
the geographical distribution of the seem to be the denial of human agency in
given technology. An ethnic label might the manifestation of metaphysical enti-
be appropriate if it is demonstrably the
case that people somehow identify
themselves with that variant within the 19. THE OHlNDASl OF EZlAVl LINEAGE HOLDS THE STAFF
overall tradition (or are so identified by CHARACTERISTIC OF AN ELDER OR TITLED MAN.
others, as could, of course, be the case HE WEARS THE BREEDING PLUMES OFTHE
The latest development in the textile IN EBIRA AND IS INHERITED AMONG FOUR LINEAGES.
history of this part of Nigeria that I OKENGWE. EBIRA. 1966.
ties, but rather the hiding away of the (Susan & John Picton in 19691, Ojirami
individual as part of the process of his (Susan Picton in 1968), Ghotuo (Otuo) RIGHT 21. AN EKUECICI AT THE FEAST OF ECANE
removal from one social category to and Ikao (Susan Picton in 1968-69, Jean THE PERFORMER WEARS A MASK CARVED BY
another. The contrast with Ebira and Borgatti in 1972-73), Ikpeshi (John Picton THE LATE AMODU IHlOVl OF OPOPOCO
Ebira-derived masquerading is striking, in 1964). In addition, Jean Borgatti has OBOROKE. EBIRA. 1968.
for there the denial of human agency is an identified a headdress collected at Okpe
essential component of the presentation as part of this tradition (1982:46). It is,
of ancestral and related identities. When furthermore, worth remembering that
my close friend, the late Ebira sculptor Ogbe is Okpameri-speaking, though In any case, quite apart from the vari-
and performer iKarimu Ihiovi, took me denying Okpameri identity; Ugboshi is ety of fiber masks, we cannot necessarily
with him to visit friends at the Okpameri Okpameri; Ojirami is Okulosho; Okpe is assume that we are dealing with a single
village of Imoga in the northern Edo area one of four or five villages speaking their sculptural tradition, as Borgatti's pub-
during an age-grade celebration he was own North-West Edo language; and all lished illustrations and discussion indeed
shocked by the masquerades for this very of these are within the Akoko-Edo Local make clear (1982:36-51; and, likewise,
reason. To make matters worse, one per- Government Area (Fig. 6). Ikpeshi is Murray's and Susan Picton's unpublished
former in a procession of young men had located in the Akoko area of Ondo State, photographs in the Lagos Museum).
a wooden mask that he was actually just to the west of the Osse River that There are helmet masks with superstruc-
putting on as he danced along, in full provides the boundary with Bendel ture (at Ogbe, Ugboshi, Ghotuo, Ikao,
view of everyone. State. The language is probably the Ikpeshi) and without superstructure (not
The basic mask form is subject to var- North-West Edo language of Ishua (I seen at Ikpeshi, but I probably did not see
ious and variable forms of elaboration was not aware of all these complications the complete set), and wooden head-
and display both within a village and at the time), unless there is some histori- pieces with fiber masks (at Ghotuo, Ikao,
from one village to another (e.g., Borgatti cal connection with the North-Central Okpe). Moreover, the Ogbe masks are
1976, 1982; Susan Picton in Picton & Edo community of Ikpeshi in Akoko- carved with a sculptural naturalism (Figs.
Mack 1989:168). Moreover, in no more Edo. Ikao is Ghotuo-speaking (i.e., in the 1, 7) which, though naive in execution,
than five or six northern Edo villages North-Central language group), in the provides a clear contrast with the
there are, in addition to these fiber con- Owan Division. In other words, these schematic forms characteristic of Ghotuo
structions, wooden helmet masks. When masks are found in villages spread and Ikao. These masks are still being
worn, some of these produce masked among four distinct languages, but made; at any rate, in 1982 the carvers of
figures of about three meters in height. apparently not in the sometimes greater Ogbe told me they had already started
The documented cases are as follows: number of those other villages speaking work on the set required for the next set
Ogbe (Kenneth C. Murray in 1947, Susan these languages. There is, evidently, a of performances. It will be recalled that
Picton in 1968-69, 1982), Ugboshi-Sale curious historical problem here. new masks are commissioned for each
festival, the previous set having been dis- in height (though smaller stools are have been the work of northern Edo
carded in the forest, as noted by William sometimes carved for little children) as sculptors, though some are the work of
Fagg, R. E. Bradbury, Philip Allison, and compared to 40 centimeters and more locally domiciled smiths, also of Edo ori-
Susan Picton in their field notes and as for elders' stools. Domestic stools can be gin; and some are the work of Ebira sculp
published by Borgatti (1982; for further considered as providing a basic reposi- tors (Figs. 14, 15) and of an unidentified
data on Ogbe see Picton 1990). tory and source of design. Sometimes sculptor or sculptors in Ijumu and Abinu
Some half-dozen door panels embel- they may be no more than rectangular villages (Fig. 16) taking the Edo image as
lished by relief carving have been noted or cylindrical blocks of wood, though among the relevant "schemata of tradi-
at Semorika, Akuku (Fig. 8), and Oja- more often than not they are carved tion" (Gombrich 1960:319). Moreover, the
Oke (Fig. 9) (all Okpameri or Okulosho); either with a central and often ringed arm adorned with a series of bracelets
at Ikpeshi (Fig. 10) (perhaps Ishua); at pillar between upper and lower discs, or could be another source, together with the
Ukpila (Etsako); and at Okene (Ebira); with three or four legs at the circumfer- domestic stool, of the ringed motifs that
by Murray, Allison, and Susan and John ence of upper and lower disc. Some are so common an element of all staffs and
Picton, at various times from 1947 to elders' stools are simply bigger versions stools throughout the area, but I have no
1969. Full details are in the photographic of these domestic forms, without figura- proof of any of this.
archive in the National Museum, Lagos. tive embellishment. In Ebira there is no grand celebration
Once again, it would be tempting to One of the most frequent composi- of a girl's coming of age, so that while
place these alongside eastern Yoruba tional elements found on the large stools the image of the woman with upraised
Ekiti and Opin door panels. However, for elders and titled chiefs, in Akoko-Edo arms is an acceptable embellishment of
they all have more in common with the and throughout much of the area covered stools (otherwise why should it be so
schematic Edo tradition as documented by this paper, is the figure of a woman, widespread?), it cannot ever have had
by Ulli Beier at Agbor (1963) and by arms bedecked with bracelets and raised the same significance, historical or
Allison at Uromi, Ishan (Lagos Museum above her head. Borgatti (1971) provides emblematic, as in Akoko-Edo. Indeed,
archive). The subject matter of the relief the explanation of this image by her use the generic term for the sculpted human
sculpture also supports this proposi- of a Northcote Thomas picture of a figure in Ebira, whether freestanding or
tion. The door at Oja is certainly the northern Edo girl dressed for the celebra- part of a stool, is onyonokumi, which in
most spectacular, in terms of both size tions of her coming of age and subse- fact describes one who is paralyzed,
and skill in execution. The Ikpeshi ex- quent availability for marriage: her arms lame, or unable to talk. Its acceptability
ample is, by contrast, the most crudely are indeed bedecked with bracelets and clearly, therefore, does not depend upon
schematic, as indeed were their age- raised above her head in a gesture of dis- its overt subject matter within Ebira cul-
grade masks. (This is intended not as a play and as a means of relieving the ture, but upon its ornamental value. It
judgment of local value in regard to aes- sheer weight of her ornamentation. Her has aesthetic meaning as advertising,
thetic merit, but rather a judgment in neck and legs might well be similarly containing and representing something
terms of my perception of the level of adorned. The distribution of the image is of the esteem and the wealth of the elder
skill realized.) thus more widespread than the coming- or chief, together with his household.
I use the term schematic, together of-age celebrations in which it originates. The main formal sculptural property of
with the implied contrast with naturalis- For example, it is found on many stools such a stool is its larger size, but the fig-
tic, on the basis of E. H. Gombrich (1960) in Ebira (see Borgatti 1982: fig. 26 for one ural embellishment enhances its capaci-
and Peter J. Ucko (197719 as a descrip- of my photographs of such a stool; also ty to stand for that elder or titled man
tion of by far the majority of essentially Fig. 13). Some of them must have come and his wealth, and his household.
small-scale carved wooden objects into Ebira as a consequence of raiding or Moreover, in the past, when at his death
found throughout the region. I refer in trading expeditions in the nineteenth much of that wealth would have been
particular to the staffs and stools for century and perhaps earlier. These would consumed and destroyed in the cycle of
elders and titled chiefs. I would also celebrations of his achievements, one of
include within this category the face the few remaining memorials, in addi-
masks characteristic of Ebira, found tion to that primary memorial in his
wherever Ebira-style masquerades have descendants, would be his stool. Evi-
been taken up. Then, here and there, one dently the representational capacity and
also finds artifacts of more restricted content of this image cannot be the same
distribution, sometimes unique to one in Ebira as in Akoko-Edo, whatever the
or two places, but making use of more historical source of its subject matter
widely distributed elements and con- and its iconic conventions.
ventions of image and motif. A rectan- Occasionally the figure with upraised
gular dish embellished with figure ringed arms on a stool is male (Fig. 17),
carving collected by Murray at Semorika and there is an Akoko-Edo ceremonial
(Fig. 11) is a case in point. I am not, of prototype for this also. For example,
course, suggesting that only one form of Susan Picton's photograph of the leader
schematization exists: on the contrary, of an age set at Oja during the celebra-
throughout the confluence area one sees tions marking their passage from one
a range of schematic options, each per- grade to the next (Picton & Mack
haps the work of a single carver. 1989:172) shows him wearing, among
The most ubiquitous type of artifact other things, an array of ivory bracelets.
in this region, however, is the small As before, this would be an acceptable
domestic stool (Fig. 12). Every adult image on a stool for an Ebira elder for rea-
woman has her own, and there will be sons of embellishment and display, but, in
several more in any household. These the absence of formal age grades, not as
may be no more than 15-25 centimeters an icon of status. The same consideration
applies to the remarkable figure of a man
(despite the appearance of breasts, it is
22. DETAIL OF A STAFF FOR AN ELDER OR TITLED MAN. definitely male) holding a bowl and
. 4
known as omoto (Fig. 18), part of the
regalia of the Ozumi, a title held by the d ' 23 STAFFS AND STOOLS BELONGING TO THE
"children of Ogu," a lineage at Okene. ASIEMA A LINEAGE TITLE HOLDER THE STOOL
The staff of an elder or titled man is SEWN WITH FIBER TO FORM A CYLINDRICAL BOX
another type of sculpted artifact found THE UPPER DISC PROVIDES THE LID THlS HAS NO
throughout the confluence area. It has an PARTICULAR RITUAL PURPOSE OR SIGNIFICANCE
iron ferrule at the base and an ornamen- OZURI. EBIRA, 1967
tal top, and for most of its length the staff
is typically carved with a repeated,
apparently nonfigurative motif, though NO INFORMATIONWAS FORTHCOMING TO
my comments above on the possible A
. "i
derivation of the ringed motif should be CONCEPTUALIZATION OF THE HUMAN HEAD.
noted (Figs. 19,22-24). However, on one OZURI, EBIRA, 1967.
staff, made by an unidentified sculptor, a
pair of carved rings forms the stool for a
seated figure at the top (Fig. 25). This
image of a seated figure, in addition to
the ringed-am motif, reinforces the sug-
gestion that the stool might be repository,
source, and recipient of these schemata of
tradition. The tops of these staffs are
often nonfigurative, though many have
the shape of the human head. Other
images also make their appearance, in
particular the human figure, usually PHOTO X)HN PICTON
female (throughout the region), but
sometimes male. One also finds the occa-
sional figure on horseback, for example and the status of ekuecici each serve to
at Okene, though its place of carving is define the lesser status of the other.
not known, as well as masked perform- The wooden mask, opo, and the cloth
ers of the kind found in the area around hood, omurumuru, are alternative pieces
Kabba (Fig. 26). of headgear for ekuecici, though some
One further carved wooden artifact have both. From one point of view, the
remains to be considered, and in some contextual placing of the mask is contin-
ways it is the most problematical of all. gent upon the placing of masquerade in
I refer, of course, to the face mask char- general within Ebira life and of this
acteristic of Ebira and Ebira-derived Species within the dramatis personae of
masquerades. In the Ebira language masquerade (see Picton 1989, forthcom-
these masquerades are known generi- ing). The shape of the wooden mask,
cally as ekuecici (eku=masquerade, here however, must have a very different his-
qualified by ecici, a word usually trans- torical placing, if only because of the
lated into English as "rubbish," i.e., the fact that, as I have noted above, a good
loose stones, sticks, leaves, and house- deal of woodcarving in Ebira is in fact
hold and other detritus scattered over the work of smiths. Moreover, the fact
the ground). The term eku refers primar- that Ebira masks typically are blackened
ily to that domain of human existence is likened to the dirt of the smith at
to which in Ebira tradition one passes at work forging iron. themselves to carve flutes, mortars,
death. Whatever that domain is, and Shortly before Ecane the box contain- stools, and agidibo. Another friend, Momo
wherever it is, it is not the paradise of ing mask and costume will be opened Simpa of Oboroke, made masks and
Islam, nor is it the beatific vision of and the contents inspected. If, as some- flutes. He also once carved me a cigarette
Christianity, even though it is often times happens, termites have entered in holder (though I do not smoke). Amodu's
quite erroneously translated by English- and eaten the mask, another must be son iKarimu carved masks, and once he
speaking Ebira people as "heaven." Eku carved in time for the coming perfor- made a staff. He and his brother Jimo also
also extends to metaphysical and mate- mance. In those circumstances someone carved agidibo. Audu Ovenero of Ahaneci
rial manifestations of that domain, and might well volunteer to try his hand. carved mortars, agidibo, and stools.
in particular to those we call masquer- Instead of paying a smith to carve it, he The major concern when making a
ade. The essential core of the dramatis can buy an adze at market and take it to mask was that it should fit comfortably
personae is provided by the ekuoba, a his farm out of the way of women. Many over the face: its outer form seemed of
shroud-like appearance that provides Ebira masks are indeed single attempts. secondary concern. Nevertheless, in
for the re-embodiment, within the cos- Sometimes the mask turns out sufficiently accepting a commission to carve a mask,
tume, of deceased lineage and house- well that others may ask the carver to try iKarimu Ihiovi would always ask his
hold elders.10 At the first manifestation his hand at a mask for them also. This patron whether it should be like this or
as ekuoba, the ancestor will be accompa- way a man might carve half a dozen that existing and well-known mask."
nied by his mask-servant, the ekuecici, masks, until he reaches such an age that When I asked him what kind of face he
whose role is to clear his path of any he can no longer take commissions of this thought he was carving when working
rubbish that might cause him to stum- kind, the age at which one is expected to on a mask, his reply was very straight-
ble. Apart from ancestral commemora- be the patron of younger men, not their forward: "It is the face of eku."
tions, ekuecici appear as generic client. This was how Amodu Ihiovi of On the other hand, the intention to
messengers of the domain of the dead Opopoco became a carver (Picton & Mack replicate an existing artifact, no matter
at the mid-year feast of Ecane, "The 1989:6; see Willett 1971: pl. 207 for an how exact or inexact the end product
Feast of Women" (ece=wine, festival; example of his work). Other men, per- might turn out to be, could be expected to
anee=women). The name of this feast haps in analogous circumstances, teach promote the development of a character-
26. STAFF FOR AN ELDER OR TITLED MAN. Yoruba to the northeast, Akoko-Edo, and
PHOTOGRAPHED AT A BASA-NGGE VILLAGE NEAR Etsako, local histories of art would
include these same elements, among oth-
AND PRESUMABLY WAS CARVED AT, AN ABlNU ers, but arranged in a different order. The
OR OWE-IJUMU VILLAGE. 1967. Ebira presence is the source of certain
kinds of masquerades in this region,
while at the same time Ebira people have
25. DETAIL OF A STAFF BELONGINGTO largely taken on the surrounding technol-
ogy. In those northern Edo villages that
IN EBIRA. ALTHOUGH LOCAL OPINION have Ebira-derived masquerades, these
SUGGESTED A BASA-NGGE SOURCE. coexist side by side with the preexisting
THIS DOES NOT SEEM LIKELY. local masquerades that are a celebratory
feature of the system of age stratification,
except at Ososo where pre-Ebira mas-
querades disappeared without a trace.
A final comment on the possibility of
a mediating role for the smiths in the
distribution of the smaller-scale works
now seems appropriate. The huge
Akoko-Edo age-grade masks are defi-
nitely the work of local (i.e., non-smith)
carvers, as indeed are probably the
majority of the smaller-scale works in
Akoko-Edo. As Uneme smiths moved
northward, supplying the equipment for
local sculptors and apparently supplant-
ing local smiths, they must have realized
that in taking to wood sculpture them-
selves they would enhance their useful-
ness, in particular supplying stools and
staffs. They would have drawn upon
1 their own existing skills in the carving of
wooden hafts and hilts for the mounting
of hoe and knife blades, thereby intrg
10,12). In all cases we are, of course, talk- ducing a further level of schematization.
ing of Ebira institutions that have been As they moved through Ebira toward
borrowed, in whole or in part, and with Kabba they would have supplied both
certain connotations of masculinity and ironwork and wood sculpture, using
ancestral authority retained even though their new skills as sculptors to supply
incorporated into otherwise very differ- face masks to Ebira and Yoruba patrons.
ent ritual and metaphysical orders. For In their turn, a few local people, having
example, at Ososo (Figs. 29, 30) the at- observed the smiths, took to sculpture,
traction, so I was told, was that women perhaps because they wanted to avoid
istic range of alternative schematizations. respected these masquerades; but the having to commission a smith. Yet ironi-
Thus, some masks are a combination of new-year and mid-year festival structure cally, the work of smiths provided the
flat planes and angles (Figs. 20, 21). had been taken into the calendar, appar- model to be copied>z
Others are almost featureless, almost ently without the ancestral embodiment A note on certain "exotic" artifacts is
faceless, having just two holes to see within ekuoba that provides justification also appropriate. In 1966, in a village of
through (Fig. 31); and it can be argued for all other aspects of performance in the eastern Ebira district of Eganyi, I pur-
that the eyeholes are only coincidentally Ebira. The eclectic putting together of a chased a mask for the Lagos Museum
part of the external sculptural form, for satisfying set of festivals and perfor- (see Willett 1971: pl. 205) that was unex-
they serve primarily to enable the wear- mances has already been described by
er to see and are placed accordingly, Borgatti elsewhere in northern Edo
from within. There are masks some- (1976) and seems to have been wide- OPPOSITE PAGE, CLOCKWISE FROM UPPER LEFT
where between these extremes, and spread in this area, perhaps as a re-
there are others so inept--seeming to be sponse to the experience of Nupe and 27. MASK OF AN EKUECICI.
so uncertain in the realization of a clear then British conquest. Conversely, Ebira AND EBIRA CLOTH. THE WOOD OF
shape as to suggest lack of skill on the people are eclectic in their choice and THE MASK IS COMPLETELY OBSCURED
part of the sculptor-that it is hard to use of masks and masquerade costum- BY SACRIFICIAL MATTER.
place them. Still others are so obscured ing, points I have already made else- INOZIOOMI. EBIRA. 1969.

by sacrificial accumulation that it is where (Picton 1990). 28. A PERFORMER WEARS A MASK
impossible to know what they originally An Ebira history of art would be writ- CARVED BY A SMITH.
looked like (Fig. 27). Similarly, decora- ten in terms of a coming together of GBELEKO. OWE-IJUMU. YORUBA. 1964.
tive embellishment, such as abrus seeds masking traditions with an eastward dis- 29. MASK OF AN EBIRA-STYLEMASQUERADE.
and pieces of mirror, can obscure the tribution and a technology, shared with (BEING A WOMAN. SUSAN PICTON WAS
original shape more or less completely. their immediate neighbors north and NOT ALLOWED TO SEE IT.)
Much of the commentary on Ebira south, with in part (e.g., textiles) a west- OSOSO, AKOKOEDO. 1969.
wooden masks would also be true of the ward distribution; and this technology
masks carved for Ebiiaderived masquer-
ades in northern Edo and Ijurnu villages
came to be served by the ironworking
skills of Edo-speaking smiths originating
(Figs. 28/30; see also Borgatti 1976: figs. 2, to the south. For many villages of the
daughter had continued Kaka's work as Questions about the historical and social
a sculptor. This remains to be followed placing of artifacts can only be answered
up. The metropolitan Igala style is not in terms of particular local events given
pan-Igala, of course, as Roy Sieber de- the very complexity of the categories.
monstrated so many years ago (1961): This complexity could be explained as a
beyond the metropolitan area there is function of the confluence historically as
another range of schematic styles, each a meeting point, but such an explanation
probably the work of no more than a sin- would be a mistake, not simply because
gle carver. Umale, living near Dekina and it might be a misconstruction of conflu-
identified by Susan Picton, provides us ence history and society, but perhaps
with one of the very few of these hands because the certainties and relative sim-
to which we can put a name (Fig. 33). plicities that seem to obtain elsewhere
Also under the rubric of the "exotic" I are also misconstructed. In my paper on
would also place those masks in some Ekpeye masks and masking (Picton
Etsako communities whose characteristic 1988b), I noted that the Niger Delta
shapes and colors seem to have much in seemed to be an area in which individual
common with northern Igbo masking artifacts, cults, motifs, and the like -and
traditions, and about which Borgatti has even the names of such things, irrespec-
already written (1976,1979). tive of whether two things with the same
A tension runs through this paper name in two different places looked at
between the need to avoid ethnic labels all like each other-had unique and indi-
and, paradoxically, the need to use them. vidual distribution networks, which




BASA-NGGE, 1967.

pected in terms of its subject matter and

embellishment. I was told it was the
work of an anivasa carver called Okaka.
The word anivasa means "inhabitant of
Basa," but the Basa referred to here are
the so-called Basa-ngge ("We are not
Basa"); that is, they are the Nupe people
who settled in the northwest of the Igala
kingdom as early as 1840, not the "true"
Basa (Basa-kwomu) further along the
Benue. The greater number of Basa-ngge
communities are to the east of the lower
Niger, although there are riverain Basa-
ngge villages along the west bank also.
Masked performances are part of the
cycle of Muslim fasts and feasts. The
masks themselves present various forms
of wild animals, and the manner of their
cawing reminds me of the metropolitan
Igala style of wood sculpture. Susan
Picton worked in several Basa-ngge, non-
metropolitan Igala, and Basa-kwomu vil-
lages to the east of the Niger in 1969,
when I also visited some of the riverain
communities on both sides of the river,
Basa-ngge and Igala (Fig. 32), where the
Russians have since built a steelworks.
Susan was told, quite independently of
my Eganyi information, of a Basa-ngge
sculptor called Kaka. Apparently Kaka
was the one and only Basa-ngge sculptor.
Susan was also told that at his death his PHOTO JOHN PCTON
indicated a capacity for parts of a com- 33. MIRROR FRAME BY UMALE, IDENTIFIED
plex of practices to be moved about BY SUSAN PICTON AS A SCULPTOR FROM
apparently as readily as complete assem- IT WAS COLLECTED BY PHILIP ALLISON IN 1962 FOR
blages. In the absence of detailed knowl- THE NATIONAL MUSEUM IN LAGOS. 1969.
edge of the histories of local people and
communities, this must sound as if it is
an entirely random process; obviously
that would be an absurd conclusion, as if deavor to return home, whether from
artifacts had a life without people. (On the farm, the cocoa plantations of Yor-
the other hand, the reverse of that propo- ubaland, or the cities; there is the catego-
sition, that the lives of people are depen- rization by gender; and there is that
dent upon artifacts, is a basic point of sense of Ebira identity that exists as a
fact.) The situation in the confluence function of the derivation of Ebira mas-
seems to be like that in the Niger Delta, querades by many surrounding commu-
and it is a case about which I can be nities without any denial of their source.
more specific. In this paper there are The discussion is not, therefore,
examples in which individuals and com- about open or closed frontiers, or about
munities have moved from one place to borderlands where there is a stylistic
another. There are also examples of arti- mix or confusion, but about "the limita-
facts, techniques, artists, rites, motifs, tions of labels" (Visonh 1987) given the
and institutions (and names, though I proposition that the boundaries mani-
have not cited examples here) being fest in one dimension may be absent in
moved from one place to another. I con- another. A trans-"ethnic" distribution
clude that all this is emblematic of a should not be explained as the tran-
widespread, perhaps virtually universal, scending of a boundary but rather as the
absence of the simplicities we seem to absence of a boundary, and as the
have yearned for and, perhaps unwit- absence of a coincidence of boundaries
tingly, have invented. In other words, between the multiple dimensions of
areas such as the confluence force us to social life. Whatever we might mean by
consider the multidimensionality of "ethnic" identity, it "may not be a solid
human life not as a situation peculiar to and certain property" (Mack 1982:121);
the confluence, but as a general reality of it cannot be taken for granted either as a
people and the things they make and must coincide. The result is (and we all certain property of individuals or com-
acquire and use and think with.13 know that this is true: the proposition is munities, or even as something that
I have used the term "social" to not restricted to the areas under discus- exists at all. The very proposition of eth-
describe the institutional bases of what sion) that two people or groups of peo- nicity as a characteristic of the peoples
people do (e.g., the structure of authori- ple can feel at one with one another of Asia and Africa is an imposition as
ty, rights to land). I am aware that I have when considering their relationship from much as it is an oversimplification. The
used "community" in a manner that is one point of view, yet at odds when con- reality is likely to be very complex, as
ambiguous, referring not just to the dis- sidering it from another. The question of much for a British Islander or an
crete settlement such as the village or the identity thus becomes a complex process American as for someone from Ogbe or
town, but also to that sense of identity of negotiation through these multiple Oboroke. For any individual person or
that develops when people live and dimensions, with a result that is only community, the sense of identity can
work together. This feeling will exist of very exceptionally unified. remain a fluid and sophisticated proper-
course by virtue of the institutional tra- The place of artifacts in this negotia- ty, and dependent upon the circum-
ditions of particular places (titles, cults, tion of identity is inevitable, but no less stances in which an identity needs to be
etc.), but there are always other and complex for all that. Precisely how do identified (Mack 1982:121).
sometimes novel structures-the mar- people create identity and communi- I can have no argument with the per-
ketplace, the church, the mosque, the ty-and difference-by means and by son who wishes to call himself or herself
school-as well as those informal situa- virtue of artifacts? These are not new Ebira, or Yoruba, or Okpameri, or Okulo-
tions in which alternative senses of com- questions, of course, as they have been sho, or Akoko-Edo, or Nigerian, or what-
munity will develop. Some people may discussed in different ways by Ian ever; but I would then ask questions
wonder at my inclusion of so much Hodder (1982) and John Mack (1982). about the social, historical, and artistic
detail about language and community Several further examples have been circumstances in which an identity of
earlier in this paper, but I frankly do not given above. Quite apart from the social that kind, as no more than one of several
understand how anyone could claim to irony of the historical significances of possible species of identity, comes to
understand the continuities and disjunc- the smiths, there are the potters of Oja have an overriding significance. On the
tions in art without also understanding and Oboroke, and there are masquer- other hand, it has also to be recognized
these as existing among other continu- ades. The stratification embodied in par- that the idea of being "Yoruba," or "Eng-
ities and disjunctions. The manner in ticular sets of age-grade masks is a case lish," or "American," has a force and a
which people are brought together in in point. Ebira masquerades certainly value that is quite independent of the
one dimension of their lives will not nec- provide for more than one sense of unity content taken to be subsumed under the
essarily coincide with the pattern of and community and disjunction. There terms themselves, and in that sense their
unity and disjunction in others. In this is the identification of particular house- continued use may be justified. If, how-
sense, particular boundaries will be cre- holds, sometimes lineages, with particu- ever, we find these words little more
ated, maintained, embodied, subverted, lar masquerades; there is the community than a convenient shorthand, as a conve-
and signified within and because of each of those who have enjoyed the healing nience packaging, then we should
particular dimension. These boundaries power of particular masks; there is the remember that sooner or later we are
may or may not coincide, and there is no fact that for the great festivals at which expected to remove the contents and
"law," beyond the consequences of par- masked performances provide the focus throw the packages away14
ticular histories, that insists that they of public entertainment, men will en- Notes, page 93
selection, by Susan Vogel, of the pieces to be note, claiming that whereas Westerners are ure that may have been invented for the for-
included in the book and the accompanying interested in the particular and the personal, eign market, since it is not quite like anything
show; the photographs by Jerry Thompson, African art seems to concern itself with "the else and arrived in the art world lacking the
including his choice of angles and lighting; nature of things" ( p . 72). After some dubi- patina of use; and an enigmatic clay figure
and the "lessons" on how to see that preface ous references to the alleged conservatism encrusted with shells and serpents from
and accompany the pictures. The authors' o f African culture, he recommends that Djenne in Mali. We are reminded once again
. . is unabashedly reactionary: viewers approach African art humbly, rec- o f the astonishing geometries that African
"Formal analysis is an old-fashioned enter- ognizing in it centuries o f celebration o f sculptors discover in the human face and
prise," declares Vogel in the foreword. In mysteries that we do not understand. Our body. Sometimes African sculptures are said
recent years, labels have been expected to "exuberant and subtle refinement o f visual not to be realistic, as Greek sculpture suppos-
provide an ethnographic context for African skill" will nonetheless give us access to edly is, but in fact there are many realisms.
works, although iften, as in the case of most African sculpture ( p . 72). Thompson's photographs document some
o f the pieces in this exhibition (see review, p. Vogel dwells on what she calls active sculpted truths about the b o d y that the
82), very little is known about them besides inner volume, or an apparent concentration Greeks never knew. --I
what we can tell by looking. of energy ready to burst outward, as the out-
Vogel accepts the fashionable contention standing characteristic o f African sculpture.
that Westerners privilege the visual sense Her metaphors amplifying this concept draw
over all others, but she shares none o f the variously on thermodynamics, electricity,
feeling one encounters in postmodernist cir- and sex. The African artist may well give
cles that this cultural proclivity is something
we should feel guilty about. In her introduc-
separate sculptural treatment to the several
segments o f a figure, rather than unifying
tory essay, somewhat aggressively titled them, as would be more usual in Europe;
PICTON: Notes, frunl pngv 49
"Primer," Vogel says that when we find the thus, in the well-known Grebo masks, the
From 1961 to 1970 I was an employee of the Department of
echo of our own private experiences of well- eyes become discrete units virtually indepen- A n t ~ q u ~ t ~ofe sthe Federal Government of N ~ g e r ~1a offer
being, mortality, sex, fear, or humor in dent o f the face to which they belong. my thanks to Professor Ekpo Eyo a n d the N a t ~ o n a l
African sculptures, we should remember that Africans, Vogel says, are not interested in Commission for Museums and Monuments for the oppor-
tunity to l ~ v eand work In N~geriaand for permlsslon to
"these emotions do not come from real con- surface textures, except when thick encrusta- publish thls m a t e r ~ a l l, n c l u d ~ n gthe photographs by
tact with the art, but rather from contact with tions of blood and dirt may be respected as Chr~stopherAwe, Kenneth Murray, and Susan Picton I am
particularly grateful to Doig Simmonds for preparing the
our own inner l i f e . An experience o f the signs o f great age and power. African sculp- maps I also acknowledge the help of His Highness Alha]~
sculpture itself must begin with a clear visual tors disconcert us with imaginative leaps Sanni Omolori, Ohinoyi of Ehlra: the R~ghtReverend Dr
Alex M a k o z ~ ,B ~ s h o pof Lokola, and the late Andrew
reading o f its sculptural form" ( p . 75). In from realism to geometrical abstraction, from Ogembe, my f ~ e l dassistant in Ebira W~thoutt h e ~ rhelp
~ f r i c a , t h emaking o f a work, or even its volume to shallow engraving. Although none of this would have been possihle. In addition to the
mere existence, might be more important African sculpture is said to be symmetrical, N~gerianGovernment, I also acknowledge the financial
assistance of the B r ~ t ~ sMuseum,
h the British Academp and
than its appearance. Though masks and cer- its asymmetry is often its exciting feature. the School of Oriental and Afr~canStud~esof the University
tain other theatrical works were intended to "Traditional African artists tend to create of London. I thank the late Kenneth Murray, who sent me
to Ebira and the confluence, Susan Connell (later P~cton),
create a visual effect,the audience did not symmetrical designs, but deliberately avoid whom I sent to work in Akoko-Edo and without whose
seek "the purely visual contact that we in the symmetry in their execution; their works f ~ e l ddata this paper could not have been wrltten, and the
late John Omoluahi, to whom Susan introduced me In
West associate with looking at art" ( p .79). mock symmetry to create interest" ( p .79). Ososo and who was so Important a part of our work In
Well, that's the theory of the Western art Is all this asymmetry intentional? Vogel is 1982. Then, Jean Borgatti came through London at various
experience, but an ethnographically percep- so frank about the viewer's-particularly her times on her way to and from an adjacent part of northern
Edo Her work and Ideas have prov~dedconstant illumina-
tive account o f our galleries and museums own-contribution to the aesthetic experi- tlon I also thank Marla Berns for her comments on the first
would surely report that more goes into that ence that she calls into question some of her draft of this paper. I certainly feel better satlsfied w ~ t hit as
a result.
experience than disembodied looking. There own assertions about African artistic inten-
I At Ososo In Akoko-Edo, for example, there IS a dual sys-
may not be, as in Africa, the music, recitation, tions. On the other hand, the most convinc- tem of descent and ~nher~tance, patrlllneal and matrilineal.
and movement to which Vogel refers, but ing evidence for her contentions about Two sets of lineages give people two ways of reckoning
there are surely, as in Africa, "belief,anticipa- dynamic volume was provided by the exhi- relat~onshipsand access to two sets of land r~ghts,and two
sets of t~tle-takingrights Matrllineages and patril~neages
tion and understanding," guided b y the bition itself, in which one was astonished to cut across one other, presupposing complex networks of
appearance and atmosphere of the building, discover how small some o f the seemingly loyalt~es,and across these, agaln, 1s the stmcturlng of the
age grades creatlng yet further loyalties. Then, as an elder,
by the catalogue in our hand, and b y the massive sculptural forms shown in the pho- havlng graduated through the age-grade system, a man can
curatorial voice in our ear (p.80). tographs actually are. enter the title-tak~ngstructure, which provides a ranked
sequence of l u n ~ o rand senior t~tles,prov~dedthere IS a
In his introductory essay, "Some Thoughts Vogel also briefly introduces the two col- vacant title w ~ t h l neither of his lineages The day-to-day
on Looking at African Sculpture," Thompson lections, one belonging to Udo Horstmann government of Ososo was, and continues to he, through
repeats the theme o f the book. "Looking at and the other to an anonymous American regular (and now minuted) meetlngs of the elders and
t~tledmen In each ward This pattern, In particular the age-
the face of an African figure apart from the businessman who has little use for documen- grade stratification as definlng the basis of authoritv, with
rest o f it is probably not very African. For tation and "never bothers much with anthro- or w~thoutthe compl~cat~ons of matrlllneages (and some-
times, as in the Edo klngdom, w ~ t h o u tany Ilneages), IS
that matter, just looking at, not touching, pology" ( p . 127). His collection is highly characterist~cof much of the region immed~atelysouth of
feeding, conversing with, or otherwise liv- personal, full o f "powerful, aggressive and the confluence, east and west of the lower Niger, lncludlng
the Yoruha communities around Kahba as well as the Edo-
ing with these figures is not very African" demanding pieces" ( p . 127). Approximately and Igbo-speak~ngareas. In many of these, the taklng of a
( p . 63). Nevertheless, he says, for viewers three-fifthso f all the pieces shown have t ~ t l e1s open to any elder of suff~c~ent means w~thoutthe
never been published before. restrictions of lineage as at Ososo
concerned only with looking, the face may 2. In Eblra commumtles, however, government was, and to
be a strategic area. Thompson stresses not What then do we see? There are few sur- some extent st111is, by 'id hoc meetlngs of the elders of the
only the active role o f both the human eye prises. Though many of the individual pieces clans and lineages represented there Eblra descent groups
are strictly patrilineal and determine access to both land and
and the camera in creating images, but also are new, the genres represented are mostly authority, though whether clan, sub-clan, lineage or l~neage
the importance o f multiple photographic familiar. Particularly noteworthy are a conical segment is the land-holding a u t h o r ~ t ydepends on the
numer~calsire of the descent group The land of a small clan
views to a full understanding o f a three- Kete mask from Zaire, a masterpiece of com- ~ 1 1be 1 administered as a slngle unit, whereas a lineage seg-
dimensional piece. Dramatic black-and- position; two Suku masks that could well be ment u ~ ~ t hal nlarge clan may well he the effective land-hold-
white photographs, most of them closeups, portraits o f men you know; an Ijo mask of a Ing group The lineage is, of course, the group within which
descent from a common ancestor is more or less preclse,
illustrate and fully support his contentions. water spirit, with a face like a flat sieve; a whereas the clan 1s composed of several l ~ n e a g e sall
In the exhibition itself, eyepieces were pro- Dogon mother and child composed o f acknowledging descent from a common ancestor, hut u ~ t h -
out knowing the precise 11nk.There 1s no age-grade organi-
vided to encourage viewers-to adopt specific "machinelike tubes, rods, and knobs" ( p . zation, and the status of elder 1s determ~nedby absolute
perspectives. Thompson ends on a romantic 131); a small, ribbed and knobbed Lulua fig- rather than soc~alage Most clans have at least one t~tle,an
office of ritual duty on behalf of the clan; it confers honor out to me: he had found the same technique north of the Hodder, I. 1982. Symbols in Action. Cambridge: Cambridge
and esteem on the immediate lineage segment chosen to pre- confluence. University Press.
sent a candidate for a vacant t ~ t l eMoreover, the tltle is 9. I do not intend to suggest anything of the artistic process Kasfir, S. L. 1984. "One Tribe, One Style? Paradigms in the
always conferred by the elder upon a man jun~orto h~mself. In the use of this word to describe an apparent reduction of Historiography of African Art," History in Africa, 11,
The ritual status of a titleholder enables h ~ m to act as complex to simple forms It 1s one thlng for the historian of 1:163-93.
spokesman for the clan, but always under the authority of art to note a diagrammatic likeness, but quite another to Kra~f-Askari.E . 1966. "Brass Obiects from the Owe Yoruba."
the elder. suppose that artists, on the basis of what they can see, d d u (n.s.1,3, 1: 82-87.
3 There seems to be no a priuri inhibition on the creating of int'entionally produce an outline representation: (his would Mack, J. 1982. "Material Culture and Ethnic Identity in
a sense of Identity hetween peoples Inhabiting differing Lenore evervthine
, that we know of sculotural and iconic Southeastern Sudan." in Culture Historu in the Southern
social orders. convention Nor does the term refer to quality. While it Sudan, by J. Mack & Robertshaur. ~ h m o i rno. 8 of the
4. As Arnold Rubin noted after an initla1 presentatlon of must be acknowledged that some schematic forms arise British Institute in Eastern Africa.
this paper at the Museum of Cultural Hlstory, UCLA, from an inept handllng of tools and materials, it is more Nadel, S. 1954. Nuve , Reliaion
" London: Routledae & Keaan
November 1987, it made little sense in thls reglon to talk of often the case that ~t I S as possible to achieve excellence Paul.
:arc<.,rls. anJ ;onrlnulrlzi ~f ' s t \ 12." b u ~ra1hc.r oi :are- with schematization as with naturalism. Nor d o I suggest Obayemi, A. 1976. "The Yomba and Edo-Speaking Peoples
r.,rlc- an.{ :onrlnulrlzi 01 rorm 3nc. n ~ ~ c ah r l add
general point that continuities of style can exist wlthout
continuities of form, and vice versa. The original title of
~ rhz
~ that schematic and naturalistic are hard-and-fast categories:
indeed, they are no more than words. Also, I am using the
word "schematic" where many people might use the term
and Their Neighbours before 1600," in History of West
Africa, eds. J. A. Ajayi and M. Crowder, vol. 1 (2nd ed.).
Harlow (UK): Longman.
this paper was "On Form and Style at the Niger-Benue "abstract" of this material; but this latter term is distinctly Picton, J . Forthcoming. "Masks and Identities in Ebira
Confluence," but I have preferred not to become involved unhelpful and indeed confusing for reasons that I intend to Culture," Concepts of the BodylSelf in Africa, ed. Joan Maw
here in unraveling the complex meanings of these words, deal with in a separate note to African Arts in the future. (proceedings of a seminar held at the SOAS in March
particularly "form" with its Aristotelian and Platonic reso- For the moment it will have to suffice that I make use of 1986).
nances. In any case "artifact" and "identity" serve, I hope, "schematic" wlthin three contrasting and certainly very Picton, J. 1991. "What's in a Mask," African Language and
to clarify the argument presented. I should add, however, complex pairs of terms: naturalistic/schematic; figura- Culture 3,2:181-202.
that I would not have thought t h ~ sthrough but for the tive/non-figurative; and representational/non-representa- Picton, J. 1990. "Transformations of the Artifact: John Wayne,
comments on the first draft by Marla Berns. Having been tional. However, In the absence of local knowledge we Plastic Bags, and the Eye-That-Surpasses-All-Other-Eyes,"
asked by her to clarify my use of terms such as form, style, cannot know whether something was intended to be figu- in Lotte, or the Transformation of the Object, ed. C. Deliss.
and culture, I concluded that I would do better to rewrite rative or not, representational (whether iconic or non-icon- Graz (Austria): Kunstverein.
the paper not using them at all. ic) or not. Picton, J. 1989. "On Placing Masquerades in Ebira Culture,"
10. The ekuoba belongs, historically, to a mask~ngcomplex African Languages 2,1:73-92.
5. The unclassified languages are: distributed along the Benue valley and found in Jukun, Picton, J. 1988a: "Some Ebira Reflexions on the Energies of
i. Ogori-Magongo, unclassified but presumed to be Niger- Idoma, and Igala; in parts of northwest Igbo, and also in a Women," African Language and Culture 1, 1:61-76.
Congo, spoken In two v~llagesin the south of the area number of northern Edo and Ijumu communities (e.g., see Picton, J. 1988b. "Ekpeye Masks and Masking," African Arts
administered from the Eblra town of Okene but which in Borgatti 1976: fig. 7). Underlying this complex is an eschato- 21,246-53.
terms of social institutions are otherw~sebetter regarded logical tradition that suggests a common heritage of ideas, Picton, .I . and .I . Mack. 1989. African Textiles (2nd ed.). London:
as Akoko-Edo. deeply structured within the culture history of a wide area of British Museum.
ii. Ukaan, also unclass~fiedbut presumed to be Niger-
what is now Nigeria, at least from the western borders of the Sieber, R. 1961. The Sculpture of Northern Nigeria. New York:
Congo, spoken with variations of dialect in a group of
Yoruba-speaking region to the middle Benue valley. Thus, Museum of Primitive Art.
even smaller villages, some withln the Akoko-Edo area
the Idoma language has kuw, to die; okwu, corpse; and ekwu, Ucko, P. (ed). 1977. Form i n indigenous A r t . London:
of Bendel State, others in the adjacent area of Ondo
masquerader. In Yomba the relevant terms are: ku, to die; Duckworth.
oku, corpse; but egun, egigun, egungun, eegun, masked figure. Vansina, J. 1984.Art H i s t o y in Africa. New York: Longman.
ili. Akpes, also unclassif~edbut presumed to be Niger- In Ebira we have oku, corpse; and eku, masquerade; but su, to Visona, M. B. 1987. "The Limitations of Labels," African Arts
Congo, spoken in villages (Including Ikeram and Ibaram) die. This verb does not relate to the Yoruba euphemism for 20,4:38.
in the area adjacent to Ukaan. death ( s u n , to sleep) but the typographical limitations of Willett, F, 1971. African Art. London: Thames & Hudson.
The Kwa lnnguages are classified as follou~s African Arts does not allow me to explain why. The Ebira
- The Yomba erouo:
manifestation of this complex is also informed by Ideas

u 1

i Yomba (and all ~ t dialects,

s mutually intelligible and about metaphysical agency that find resonance in Nupe and
unintelligible). western Yoruba. As I have noted elsewhere (1988a1, the
KENNEDY: Notes, from page 55
11. The Akoko cluster: some eleven laneuaees/dialects.
capacity to create life as mothers and to destroy life as witch-
sufficiently remote from Yoruba to need a separate es IS,in the Ebira metaphysical tradition, predicated of wom- The research on which this article is based was conducted in
identity, mostly w ~ t h l nthe Akoko Division (which anhood. In Yoruba and in Nupe the "phrasing" may be Europe a n d South Africa i n 1977, supported by the
indeed also includes eastern Yoruba communities) of different and not apparently located In the domain of the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad
O n d o State, b u t also including Ayere in Kabba eschatological; and their social institutions are certainly very Program. I would like to thank the staffs of the Museum fur

~~~~-~~~ Yet
-~ the similarities
~ - ~ ~ -
~ ~ to the ideoloev
of Gelede mas- Volkerkunde i n Berlin. the Voortrekker Museum in
lli, 1 ~ ~again1 ~ sufficiently
: remote to need separate listing, querade and with Nupe ritual will be patent (Drewal & Pietermaritzburg, and the Natal Museum in Pietermaritz-
1983; Nadel 1954)' burg for making their collections available to me for this
11. The Edo group (and here I only list those relevant to this
11. On this basis I commissioned a serles of masks from research. I am erateful to the Natal Museum, and es~eciallv
iKarimu for the Lagos Museum. I remember discussing them to Dr. Brian StuYckenberg, for institutional support duiing m;
a. North-Central Edo languages: wlth Arnold. Knowing that I was interested in sculpture, stay in South Africa in 1972-73 and 1977. I thank Dr. Roy
ii. Ikpeshl
. .
i. Etsako ( ~ r o p e r,l known
v as Yekhee) iKarimu would sometimes carve other things to impress me Sieber for commenting on an earlier draft of this article.
with his skill. Here was a man interested in art, whose skills 1. The center of the Zulu kingdom was located between the
iii. Otuo (properly known as Ghotuo) might, in more diverse circumstances, have been enabled in upper reaches of the White and Black Mfolozi rivers in
iv Uneme (the smiths)
ways that were not open to an Ebira farmer. South Africa, a n d its b o u n d a r i e s extended from the
v Ate-Okpela
12. This historical model is, of course, entlrely my own Pongola River in the north to the Thukela River in the
vi. Ososo invention. south, between the Drakensberg Mountains and the Indian
vii. Sasaru-Enwan-Iawe 13. This argument has several obvious starting points and Ocean. The boundaries changed over time. At the height of
viii. Ora reinforcements along the way One is my own fieldwork; his power, Shaka virtually controlled the area between the
N B.: Edo proper, the language of the Benln Kingdom, another is Rene Bravmann's Open Frontiers (1973); and Thukela and Mzimkhulu rivers, sending military parties
and Ishan are also classed in this group. another is Arnold Rubin and a seminar he gave his graduate against numerous Nguni-speaking peoples living in south-
b. North-West Edo languages: students at UCLA when I was visiting: he said the messier it ern Natal.
i. Okpameri-Okulosho all seemed, the more 11kelyit was to be true. 2. The king's regiments worked on behalf of the state. The
ii. Okpe-Akuku-etc. 14. Except in Gloucester, England, where there is now a large number of women formally associated with the royal
iii. Uhami-Ishua-etc. museum of packaging. However, in the conflicting identities homesteads were of value not only for their labor but also
iv Ukue-Ehuen/Ikpenmi-etc. arising as a result of the horrors of the war with Iraq, a prob- for the cattle recelved when they married, augmenting the
(Etc, here means that there are other villages, but no lem that might seem to be a mere function of descriptive national herds.
common name.) accuracy can be seen to have implications of tragic world- 3. The king's principal residences were dist~nguishedfrom
1II.The Ebira group: Ebira, also incorrectly known by a wide consequence. the typical homestead by the enormous central cattle byre,
Yoruba-ized spelling as Igbira, and spoken primarily the vast number and large size of the individual structures
within the administrative area known as Igbirra Division. arranged around it, and the high quality of materials and
References cited workmanship. These residences typically measured several
Speakers of this language are also found at Igara, the
administrative center of Akoko-Edo Division, where it 1s Beier, U 1963 "A Note on the Woodcarvings of the Obi of kilometers in circumference. Lunguza ka Mpukane stated
qualified as Ebira-etuno; and north of the confluence, Agbor," Odu 9,24-25. that "one shouting o n o n e side [of emGungundlovu,
around Koton-Karifi, where its name 1s pronounced Borgatti, J. 1982. "Age Grades, Masquerades, and Leadership Dingane's principal homestead] could not be heard across
Egbira or Egbura. Ebira and Egbira are to all intents and among the Northern Edo," African Arts 16, 1: 36-51. the other" (Webb & Wrlght 1976, vol. 1:344), and Allen
purposes entirely distinct Borgatti, J. 1979. "Dead Mothers of Okpella," African Arts 12, Gardiner calculated that emGungundlovu consisted of more
IV. The Nupe group: including Nupe (itself including Basa- 4: 48-57.
than 1,100 lndlvidual structures (1836:206).
ngge among many other d~alects)and other languages of Borgatti, J. 1976. "Okpella Masking Tradit~ons,"African Arts
4. The terms copper and brass are often used interchange-
the middle Niger region 9,4: 24-33.
ably in English sources, and the Zulu term ithusi generally
Borgattl, J. 1971. "The Northern Edo of Southern Nigeria."
also refers to either brass or copper. Precise Zulu terms d o
It will be remembered that Basa-kwomu, the "true" Basa, is M A, thesis, UCLA.
exist, however: ithusi elimhlophe (white ithusi) for brass
placed within the Western Plateau group of Benue-Congo Bravmann, R. 1973. Open Frontiers. New York.
(whlch is an alloy of copper and zinc) and ithusi elibomvu
languages. Drewal, H. J. and M. T. Drewal. 1983. Gelede. Bloomington:
(red ithusij for copper (Doke & Vilakazi 1972:809). Bryant
6. At Ososo, if a smlth comes to your house and sits down, Indiana University Press. simply defines ithusi as brass, or a thing made of brass
you would purify the chair by passing fire over it as soon as Fagg, W. and J. Picton. 1970. The Potter's Art in Africa (1905666).
he has gone. In the past if a n Ososo woman gave birth to London. British Museum 5. Also sometimes referred to as isidiya (pl, izidiya).
twins, they would be given to the smiths to be cared for. In Gombrich, E. H. 1960. Art and Illusion. London: Phaidon (4th 6. An illustration of a woman wearing thls garment appears
Ebira, no one would willingly marry his daughter to a smith, ed., 1972). in The Kafirs of Natal (Shooter 1857:151).
and no one would want a smith-girl as h ~ first
s wife Gunn, H D. and F, P Conant. 1960. Peoples of the Middle
7. According to Gedhle, ubusengawere not known during the
7. An irony will be noted: women weave cloth, including the Niger Region, Northern Nigeria. London: International
reign of Mpande, Cetshwayo's predecessor (Webb & Wright
cloth for masquerade costuming, while smiths produce the African Institute.
1976, vol. 1:148).
h w , and yet those are the art~factsthat more than any other Hansford, K., J . Bendor-Samuel and R. Stanford. 1976. 8. Alan Smith pointed out that because of the treacherous
embody the masculinity of the freeborn Eblra male. Studies in Nigerian Languages No. 5, An lndex of Nigerian currents along the Natal coast and the absence of adequate
8. I a m grateful to Theodore Celenko for pointing this Languages. Accra. harbors along the coastline, Delagoa Bay was the southem-

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On Artifact and Identity at the Niger-Benue Confluence
John Picton
African Arts, Vol. 24, No. 3, Special Issue: Memorial to Arnold Rubin, Part II. (Jul., 1991), pp.
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Okpella Masking Traditions

Jean M. Borgatti
African Arts, Vol. 9, No. 4. (Jul., 1976), pp. 24-33+90-91.
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References cited

Age Grades, Masquerades, and Leadership among the Northern Edo

Jean M. Borgatti
African Arts, Vol. 16, No. 1. (Nov., 1982), pp. 36-51+96.
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Dead Mothers of Okpella

Jean M. Borgatti
African Arts, Vol. 12, No. 4. (Aug., 1979), pp. 48-57+91-92.
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- Page 2 of 2 -

Okpella Masking Traditions

Jean M. Borgatti
African Arts, Vol. 9, No. 4. (Jul., 1976), pp. 24-33+90-91.
Stable URL:

One Tribe, One Style? Paradigms in the Historiography of African Art

Sidney Littlefield Kasfir
History in Africa, Vol. 11. (1984), pp. 163-193.
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On Placing Masquerades in Ebira

John Picton
African Languages and Cultures, Vol. 2, No. 1. (1989), pp. 73-92.
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Some Ebira Reflexions on the Energies of Women

John Picton
African Languages and Cultures, Vol. 1, No. 1. (1988), pp. 61-76.
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Ekpeye Masks and Masking

John Picton
African Arts, Vol. 21, No. 2. (Feb., 1988), pp. 46-53+94.
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