Esie

Types of Art

Esie is an archaeological site in which over 1,000 soapstone figures of men, women, children and animals are located and originally found in a grove surrounded by Peregun trees. After a great deal of pushback from the people that worshiped these objects, they were eventually housed in what is now the Esie Museum. There are also a few at the National Museum of Lagos and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. These soapstone figures are one of the largest collections of stone carvings in Africa. The origins of these figures is mysterious. Esie traditions contend that they are the petrified remains of foreign visitors, while more recent scholarship postulates that the figures were carved by Yoruba people in an area located very close to the site on which they were found (Aleru and Adekola 2008).

The figures demonstrate a variety of stylistic characteristics, which some scholars attribute to the possibility that the stone figures are portraits of people (Meyerowitz 1943 and Daniel 1937). However, there are a several identifiable overarching attributes. The majority of the soapstone figures are male and are seated on a mushroom-style one-legged stool. The upper body is nude above a skirt and bracelets and necklaces adorn the arms and neck. They vast majority range in height from thirty to sixty-five centimeters. Facial features are naturalistic and many have outlined eyes and a long nose bridge with nostrils that flare out. The torso features a protruding navel and sagging pectorals and breasts. The majority have identical facial marks, which are three parallel and horizontal, straight lines between the eye and the ear. The Esie claim this is an ancient mark of the Nupe, who predate the Esie. All female sculptures have three to four parallel marks in the nape of the neck, which are said to be made for the insertion of magical protective medicines (Meyerowitz 1943).

Unique examples include some figures that stand and one portrays a musician playing a pipe. Soldiers have quivers and arrows at the back and helmets in the shape of a bird. Some female figures carry curved swords, which indicates that Esie women held political power (Meyerowitz 1943). There is a great deal of variety in headdress types, including cone-shaped hats, pyramids-shaped hats with square and hexagonal bases, and decorations including tassels, chevrons, rosettes and leaf-like ornaments.

History

Although not much is known about the Esie site in south central Nigeria, objects collected from this area have been dated between the 12th and 15th centuries and were perhaps associated with the nearby ancient Yoruba kingdom of Oba.

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Facts about Esie

Location

Explore a map of Esie peoples and their neighbors in south central Nigeria

Countries

Nigeria

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Population

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Neighboring Peoples

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