By Carla Herling
Drake University (formerly University of Iowa)

Nigeria; Mumuye peoples

Female figure

Wood, pigment  

H. 118.1 cm (46 ½”)

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.266

Africans have a very different concept of the family than most Westerners—the African extended family reaches even beyond the core parents, children, and grandparents generation to encompass the spirits of the ancestors and of those children not yet born.  All of these must be consulted before making important decisions about the conduct of life, and the ancestors are asked to intervene with the spirits that vitalize our world and provide fertility and well-being.  As a result, the cult of the ancestors is central to continuity.  In a system where life leads to death and rebirth in an unending cycle, death is merely the beginning of a new generation.  Among Mumuye peoples of the Benue River Valley, figures of ancestors are placed by the deceased's skull to absorb the spirit of the ancestor.