By Carla Herling
Drake University (formerly University of Iowa)
The Ibibio of Nigeria use carved wooden male and female seated figures in ceremonial plays to honor Ala, the earth deity, who is responsible for human abundance. This fertility ceremony, called ugbom (ogbom) is performed yearly over an eight week period. Although this particular dance figure is male, the majority of these types of figures represent women. Some are full figural sculptures, while others portray busts, many with elaborate crested hairstyles. In the ugbom, this figure was always carried on the head of a male, who was joined by female dancers. The male dancer’s identity is not concealed, he is meant to honor rather than represent Ala. The figure was connected to a basketwork frame and attached to the dancer’s head. Wooden wheels carried along with the figure were combined with streamers and ribbons to increase the joyful tone of the festivities.