Art and Centralized Power

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Nigeria; Yoruba (Ife) peoples

Oni figure


H. 47.1 cm (18 9/16")

National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria, 79.R.12

Photo by Dirk Bakker


Ideology plays a critical role in the legitimization of kings and their realms. The ability to prove one's identification with the founding deities or heroes of kingship is a prerequisite for power. Often this is accomplished through possession of an emblem or an accoutrement. Among Yoruba peoples in Nigeria the origins of royal authority are assigned to Ile-Ife, the spiritual capital of Yoruba political history. This image of an Oni (King of Ife) wears the crown with a sacred diadem of the ancient rulers of Ife.