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

Nigeria; Yoruba (Ife) peoples

Head of an Oni


H. 31 cm (12 3/16")

National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria, 11

Photo by Dirk Bakker


The life-sized brass heads from Wunmonije compound were the first Ife objects to become widely known to the outside world. One went to the British Museum (Platte 2010), and two were taken by the anthropologist William Bascom to the United States (and later were returned when the Ife Museum opened). The naturalism of these life-sized heads is stunning, but the stylistic conventions seen on the terracottas—eyes, hairline, lips, and neck rings—are evident here also. These brass heads differ from the terracotta ones in that they all have holes around the hairline and on their necks, and some have holes on the face. A bead was found in one of the holes, and scholars conclude the holes were used to attach a beaded veil to hide the mouth (Drewal, Schildkrout 2009).