The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Art from the Ijo Spirit World

by Martha G. Anderson
Alfred University

Bouyou seimo, ritual to address problems caused by nature spirits. Korokorosei, Olodiama clan. Central Ijo artist, Nigeria, 1979. Photo by Martha G. Anderson.

Spirits, or orumo, mingle with people in Wonyinghibou, but have their own communities on earth.  The Ijo distinguish between two types of spirits, whose appearance and behavior contrast as sharply as their habitats; water spirits can harm people, but tend to be far less irritable and vindictive than their counterparts on land, who kill at the slightest provocation.  People take precautions whenever they enter the forest, but are especially careful to avoid areas that the bush spirits have claimed for themselves.  When the volatile spirits retaliate against intruders by causing severe illness or erratic behavior, diviners may prescribe a ritual called bouyou seimo to counter their influence.  The diviner and her assistants gather medicines from a special part of the forest and apply them by spitting, splashing, or poking at the patient, to 'spoil' the spirits' power and 'beat them back'.  They also pour libations and sing and dance to the accompaniment of ritual drums.