By William Dewey
Pennsylvania State University (formerly University of Iowa)

Nigeria; Yoruba (Ife) artist

Oni figure


H. 47.1 cm (18 9/16")

National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria, 79.R.12

Photo by Dirk Bakker


The Yoruba people of Nigeria believe the world began at the city of Ife. One version of their myth relates how Olodumare, the creator, sent his son, Oduduwa, to form the earth. At that time there was only a wide expanse of water. Oduduwa climbed down on an iron chain and placed a chicken and a calabash of earth upon the water. The chicken scratched and spread the earth, thereby creating the land. A chameleon was then placed on the land and in its slow and careful manner tested the earth’s firmness. Oduduwa then established himself as Ife’s first sacred king. This brass figure, discovered in Ife, represents one of those sacred kings and dates from the 11th or 12th century C.E. (A.D.). He wears the traditional regalia of a king, a beaded crown and necklaces, and holds in his hands a scepter and a medicine horn, the symbols of his power and authority.