Owo

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

Nigeria; Yoruba (Owo) peoples

Figure

Clay

H. 25 cm (9 13/16”)

National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria, 73.2.1

Photo by Dirk Bakker

 

Some of the Owo objects show similarities to the art of Benin, while others such as this torso display characteristics that are unique to Owo. The necklace with tassels, for example, seems uniquely Owo. Ife was then declining in power as Oyo, another Yoruba city, was ascending. Benin in the 15th century was expanding its influence to both the east and west and must have affected Owo. Owo claims that it was never conquered by Benin, but there are many elements of Owo culture clearly borrowed from Benin, such as chieftaincy titles and the contemporary royal regalia and crowns. Owo's regalia are made of coral, like those of Benin, rather than the glass beadwork of other Yoruba royalty. The shrine where these terracottas had been stored was destroyed, perhaps when Benin was trying to subdue Owo in the 15th century (Eyo and Willett 1980: 14).