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

Nigeria; Yoruba (Ife) peoples

Oni figure


H. 37 cm (14 9/16")

National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria, 13 (79.R.9)

Photo by Dirk Bakker


In 1938 a man was digging a house foundation near the Oni’s palace when he discovered thirteen heads. Shortly after that in early 1939 four more heads and this torso were found in the same location, a compound called Wunmonije (Willett 1967: 14, 15). Although not a complete figure, it is still possible to see that the head is large in proportion to the rest of the body. We have already seen these typically African proportions at Nok and Igbo Ukwu. The figure wears multiple strands of beads and what appears to be a beaded crown. The crest ornament protruding from the crown, which is often broken from terracotta heads, is here complete. The figure depicts a king, resplendent in his regalia. The different components, such as the bow tie-like pendants, are seen repeatedly on Ife figures and must have been emblems of authority.