By Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Front side of mbari to Obiala by the artist Nnanji Ndiama Obube Ulakwo, Imo State, Nigeria, opened 1959. Photo by Herbert M. Cole.

Among the Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria, when afflictions repeatedly strike a community it may be time to “make Mbari.” "Mbari is life," say Owerri Igbo people, and larger ones strive to present a selective microcosm, a renewed world as a sacrifice to a major deity, normally in response to a catastrophe that has been visited upon the community.  The monument is a merging of architecture, sculpture, bas-relief, and painting, designed and executed as a work of art, as well as a major offering to an unseen but ever-present god, in this case the goddess of the very Earth upon which people walk, the source of food plants and animals, and the main arbiter of tradition and moral law. It is planned and most of the sculpture is executed by a professional artist or "master builder" whose personal "hand" is evident in the modeling--especially of heads, where individual styles are most easily discerned.