Mbari: Art as Process in Igboland

by Herbert M. Cole
Professor Emeritus, University of California, Santa Barbara

Plan of mbari Ala by the artist, Ofurum, in Umuofeke Agwa, Nigeria, 1963. Photo by Herbert M. Cole.

The largest intact mbari I encountered in my 1966-67 fieldwork, with seventy-five modeled figures in one main house (to Ala), in a smaller house dedicated to Amadioha, god of thunder and lightning, an office building, an airplane on stilts (with modeled pilot), and in a "U" shaped cloister, with a "maternity clinic" (see page thirteen of this essay) opposite the office building. Both the latter had telephones, and the whole complex was "wired" (with string) from four telephone poles. Figures include several dancers and musicians, four mbari spirit workers, ndimgbe, telephone operator, motorcyclist, Okoroshi masker, a local river goddess with four children climbing on her, and several animals (lion, leopard, birds, ape-man, see page ten of this essay), among others. 

The plan of the main house clearly indicates the "inside out" architecture, walls built around a tiny core room (that is not used), with buttresses (and columns, in the cloister) marking off "rooms" that are entirely open to viewing as one walks around the structure.