Spirit Embodiments

By Barbara Thompson
Friends of Usambara Society, Tanzania (formerly Stanford University; University of Iowa)

NigeriaIjo peoples

Male figure

Wood, pigment

H. 72.4 cm (28 1/2")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.157


Ijo figures represent spirits that dwell in a spirit world called Wonyinghibou ("Our Mother’s Forest"). Before birth, people also dwell in this spirit world. Water spirits are dangerous but less threatening than spirits that dwell on the land. Spirits may punish humans who wander into their domain with a variety of afflictions, including disease. They may also warn humans that they require their attention by causing illness, misfortune, infertility, or unusual behavior. Diviners must then heal by using herbs to beat back the spirits, and counter their power. The dangerous influence of a spirit can be countered by acquiring a carved figure to embody the spirit. When these spirits are represented on shrines they are shown as proud and valiant warriors, with medicines in bottles around their necks that make them bulletproof and with symbols of prestige and status, including the top hat worn by this figure.