Jebba Island

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

Nigeria; Tsoede peoples

Bowman figure

Brass

H. 92 cm (36 ¼”)

National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria, 79.R.19

Photo by Dirk Bakker

 

This large figure of a bowman, with a quiver on his back, armor on his body, and a medallioned helmet was found on Jebba Island in the Niger River close to Tada. According to legend it was one of nine bronzes brought there in the 16th century by Tsoede, the founder of the Nupe kingdom. The story relates that he escaped from the Igala capital of Idah, taking the bronzes, and sailed up the Niger River in a bronze canoe. Before continuing his voyage to found the Nupe kingdom, he left the bronzes at Tada and Jebba Island. This is one of the largest bronzes ever to have been found in sub-Saharan Africa, yet we know almost nothing about its origins. Stylistically it has some affinities to Benin and Owo art, but the small head, diminutive (broken) arms, kidney shaped mouth and outlined eyes are unlike any known style (Eyo and Willett 1980: 150).