The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Art from the Ijo Spirit World

by Martha G. Anderson
Alfred University

Shrine for Wonyinghi, the creator, Azuzama, Bassan clan. Central Ijo artist, Nigeria, 1979. Photo by Martha G. Anderson.

The Ijo believe that both people and spirits originate far off in the sky in a place called Wonyinghibou, or 'Our Mother's Forest', and return there after death to await rebirth.  They reason that the creator is female, because only women can bear children.  Wonyinghi takes little interest in earthly events, but some Central Ijo towns seek her help in preventing epidemics.  The priest of this shrine claims that no one knows what Wonyinghi looks like because she lives so far away, but songs portray her as an old woman wearing white, the color associated with the spirit world.  The staff and stool combination, which serves as her emblem here, can also be used to represent other spirits.  At a festival held during the dry season, shrine members raise the divination ladder to communicate with Wonyinghi, sweep the town clean with the broom, and sprinkle medicines from the pot to keep sickness at bay.