The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Art from the Ijo Spirit World

by Martha G. Anderson
Alfred University

Shrine for the nature spirit Apeghele. Olugbobiri, Olodiama clan. Central Ijo artist, Nigeria, 1979. Photo by Martha G. Anderson.


In contrast to spirits living on land, water spirits tend to be benevolent beings who bring people children and money.  Instead of black or dark blue, the colors bush spirits use to signify indomitability, water spirits like white, a color which connotes spirituality and wealth; they prefer offerings of imported food and beverages, like corned beef and Sprite, to the local produce bush spirits consume.  Likewise, water spirits typically materialize as aquatic animals or things found in the water, instead of as vines and termite mounds, and seldom request figure carvings.  In spite of these differences, the Ijo view spirits from the two zones as complementary and claim they can even intermarry.  Diviners consulted about a small bronze caryatid found in the water determined it was Apeghele's water wife.  Apeghele, a bush spirit, formerly had two wives; the carving of his bush spirit wife has deteriorated, but his water wife stands propped against his legs.