The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Art from the Ijo Spirit World

by Martha G. Anderson
Alfred University

Man with nature spirit companion. Ikibiri, Ekpetiama clan. Central Ijo artist, Nigeria, 1978. Photo by Martha G. Anderson.

The spirits people befriend in Wonyinghibou sometimes follow them to earth; some simply demand offerings, but others request that objects be provided for their use as earthly receptacles.  Spirits who want attention typically alert their human friends or relatives by causing illness, misfortune, or strange behavior.  Nature spirits sometimes cause people to behave combatively, reflecting their own anti-social tendencies.  When this man was younger, diviners interpreted his overly aggressive behavior in the wrestling arena as an indication that a nature spirit he had known before birth wished to join him.  Once he provided his bodiless friend with a carved image, his behavior became socially acceptable.  Spirits of this type can also cause fertility problems.  A woman described her friend from Wonyinghibou as a kind of spirit double, who looks like her and experiences the same things she does, but lives in the forest; her problems bearing healthy children ended when she acquired a carving.