Igbo Ukwu

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

Nigeria; Igbo Ukwu peoples

Staff finial or fly whisk handle

Leaded bronze

H. 15.7 cm (6 3/16")

National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria, IR359

Photo by Dirk Bakker

 

This bronze equestrian figure was also found in the burial at Igbo Richard. Whoever was buried there must have had considerable wealth and power. The object is probably the handle of a flywhisk, an item often used as a symbol of authority in Africa. The rider dwarfs the horse, and just as was the case at Nok, the rider’s head is disproportionately large. The surfaces of the horse, rider, and handle are all embellished in the typical ornate Igbo Ukwu manner. This is the first instance known of an equestrian figure in West Africa, and from its context in the burial of an important man, it must have been a symbol of his power and authority. The scarification patterns on the rider’s face may be those of the person buried here at Igbo Richard, who may also be the owner of the regalia at Igbo Isaiah.