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

Nigeria; Yoruba (Ife) artist

Head of Lajuwa


H. 32.8 cm (12 15/16")

National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria, 20 (79.R.10)

Photo by Dirk Bakker


Terracotta sculptures are more numerous than works in metal and show a wide range of styles and subjects (Willett 2004). Certain of the heads, such as this example, were made to be freestanding (not attached to a full figure). Ancient Ife art was often found by locals centuries after its initial use and abandonment and then reused in various ways. Some was interred at sacred sites and displayed annually for rituals. Drewal has photographed a contemporary egungun masquerader with an Ife terracotta head atop its costume (Drewal 1989: fig. 61). The head you are viewing was said to have been kept in the king’s palace. It is called Lajuwa, who is remembered as the usurper who became king when Oni Aworokolokin died (Eyo and Willett 1980: 103). These examples of contemporary use tell us little about the objects’ original use. Few of the Ife works have been found in their primary contexts.