The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Art from the Ijo Spirit World

by Martha G. Anderson
Alfred University

Ijo artist, Nigeria, diviner and shrine. Photo by Martha G. Anderson. 

Water spirits can materialize in many forms, but the Ijo generally describe them as beautiful beings with fair skin and long, flowing hair.  In keeping with their watery habitat and associations with wealth and trade, they often choose shiny and/or manufactured items as their emblems:  men typically purchase plastic dolls to represent their water wives; women use a glass tumbler, white saucer, and native chalk ensemble for their water husbands.  As in the case of Apeghele's water wife, diviners often consider objects people find in the water, like miniature paddles, sticks of wood, and keys, to be water spirits.  This diviner says the emblems in her shrine appeared magically, like the glass tumbler she discovered after hearing something fall during a storm.  According to her, not even the wooden objects in the shrine were carved by human hands.  Diviners often have multiple spirit companions; this one claims to have one hundred and forty.