The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Art from the Ijo Spirit World

by Martha G. Anderson
Alfred University

Shrine for the nature spirit Osuwo-owei (“Rainman”). Umugbene, Olodiama clan. Central Ijo artist, Nigeria, 1979. Photo by Martha G. Anderson.      


Spirits sometimes ask people to join or establish shrines; they can enforce their demands with death threats, but typically promise benefits to those who cooperate.  Followers often complain of the dangers involved in serving nature spirits, who tend to punish them for the slightest transgressions, but the more irascible the spirit, the better he is at protecting them from evil spirits and other dangers.  Although the Ijo generally describe nature spirits as grotesque creatures, images in shrines portray them as proud warriors, complete with 'bullet-proofing' medicines, weapons, and war paint.  Warriors formerly visited nature spirit shrines to splash medicines onto their bodies before going into battle.  Osuwo-owei, or 'Rain Man', shown here, originally had seven medicine pots, each offering protection against a particular type of danger.  Osuwo-owei is a common nature spirit name, but the Ijo usually identify each Osuwo-owei as a distinct spirit, associated with a particular section of forest.