By Carla Herling
Drake University (formerly University of Iowa)

Guinea-Bissau; Bidyogo peoples

Female ancestor figure


H. 48.9 cm (19 ¼”)

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.228

Bidyogo peoples, who live on the large cluster of islands in the Atlantic near Bissau, used carved wooden figures called iran as links with the spirits of deceased ancestors.  Iran are carved both as memorials to the deceased and as dwelling places for the soul, which survives as long as it is remembered by the living.  The figures are consulted through sacrifice for ancestral approval in the use of agricultural lands.  Following harvest, the first of the new crops are offered to the iran in gratitude for the ancestor's provision of a good growing season.