Igbo Ukwu

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

Nigeria; Igbo Ukwu artist

Staff ornament

Leaded bronze

H. 14.5 cm (5 11/16")

National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria, 39.1.18

Photo by Dirk Bakker


This cylindrical bronze ornament, also presumed to be from Igbo Isaiah, is believed to have ornamented a wooden staff, which of course disintegrated long ago. Bosses of intricate granulations, finely detailed birds with curing tails, and beads of various colors encrust the entire surface. Over 60,000 beads were found at Igbo Isaiah (Eyo and Willett 1980: 78) and are a further indication of the wealth of whoever owned this treasure. The copper and lead (used in making bronze) we now know came from a nearby mine (Craddock et al 1997) and the glass beads seem to have been obtained through trade (Insoll and Shaw 1997, Sutton 2001) . For what were they traded?  Elephant ivory and kola nuts are the most likely products. Ivory was deposited in the burial at Igbo Richard and must have been a symbol of wealth and status. Kola is a stimulant grown in the tropical forest regions, but used and traded widely in West Africa.