Yoruba Ifa Divination Cup Carrier, Nigeria #

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  • Yoruba Cup Carrier, Nigeria #
  • Shows traces of restoration at the level of the headdress and some nails, apparently very old, at the level of the body. Beautiful scarification patterns and traces of old polychromy.
  • Measurements: 55×26×25 cm
  • Condition: Good
  • Provenance: Collection Privée F. D.
  • This superb carved wooden Figure of a kneeling woman with an infant child on her back and holding a bowl in the form of a cock or chicken is referred to by the southern Nigerian Ekiti people as Olumeye (‘One-Who-Knows-Honour’). It depicts a woman who is said to be a Messenger of the Spirits. Such sculptures were used to hold Kola Nuts, which were offered to visitors, as Shrine Containers for Offerings to an Orisha, and to hold Palm Nuts used in Ifa Divination. "Ikin" are the 16 Palm Nuts used to form binary sets of data during the Divination Process. (Rowland, Drewal & Pemberton, 1991, p. 39).
  • The Ifa Divination System, which makes use of an extensive corpus of texts and mathematical formulas, is practiced among Yoruba Communities and by the African Diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean. 
  • The Figure is very similar in form and style to a similar Kneeling-Woman-and-Bowl Figure illustrated in Rowland, Drewal & Pemberton which is attributed to a member of the wood-carving Adesina Family, most possibly the Master Carver Agbonbiofe who died in 1945.

    The Figure, on a rounded base, is carved from a single piece of light wood. Traditionally, kneeling was a gesture of Respect and Devotion among the Yoruba.

    The Figure has an oval face and bulging almond eyes with prominent eyelids. The nose is flared; the ears pointed; and the lips full and sensual. Three vertical scarifications are on both cheeks. This type of scarification, termed "Pele", is regarded by many Yoruba Communities in South-Western Yorubaland as ‘Gems’ on the human face.

    The figure has traditional Bridal Head-dressing: a raised single-crested coiffure with incised triangular motifs. This coiffure is called "Irun Agogo", which is commonly related to Marriage.

    The torso is erect. Three bracelets are carved on each of her wrists. Geometric carving work is around the female figure’s shoulders and breasts; the breasts are also topped with a diamond pendant. Otherwise, the figure is unclothed.

    Such images of the Female represent a Manifestation of Yoruba Ideals of Beauty and the Gods’ Power to Bequeath Fertility. The Carver has carefully executed the figure’s composition to conform to Yoruba Traditions as well as to achieve a great sense of equilibrium.

    The figure’s strong arms hold firmly to the bowl. The bowl itself is in the form of the bottom-half of a chicken (with zoomorphic feet and a tail). The top half, which would have been in the form of the chickens head and top part of the back now is missing. The bowl is carved with diagonal carved bands.

    A Baby Figure is carved clinging to the Female Figure’s back.

    Overall, this Bowl Group conveys a sense of tranquillity through the facial expression of the Primordial Mother. She is youthful, and yet strong and maternal.

    It has an excellent brown patina with contours softened from age and handling. 

    Cole, H. M., Icons: Ideals and Power in the Art of Africa, Smithsonian, 1991.

    Fagg, W. & Pemberton, J. III., Yoruba: Sculpture of West Africa, Collins, 1982.

    Lawal, B., The Gelede Spectacle: Art, Gender, and Social Harmony in an African Culture, University of Washington Press, 1996.

    Nooter Roberts, M. & A.F. Roberts, A Sense of Wonder: African Art from the Faletti Family Collection, Phoenix Art Museum, 1998.

    Polo, F., Encyclopedia of the Ibeji, Ibeji Art, 2008.

    Price, C., Made in Africa, Cassell & Collier Macmillan Publishers, 1975.

    Robbins, W. M. & N. I. Nooter, African Art in American Collections, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989.

    Rowland, A., Drewal, H. J. & Pemberton, J. III., Yoruba: Art and Aesthetics, Museum Rietberg, Zurich, 1991.

    Walker, R. A., Olowe of Ise: A Yoruba Sculptor to Kings, National Museum of African Art, 1998.

    Waterfield, H. & J. C. H. King, Provenance: Twelve Collectors of Ethnographic Art in England 1760-1990, PHP, 2009.