Standing female figure

Igbo peoples
late 19th–20th century
more object details

General Description

Igbo girls who had been initiated into womanhood were adorned with a crested hairstyle decorated with disks of mother of pearl or brass, facial and body painting, ivory armlets and brass leg rings, and reddish coloring. The process, called nkpu, entailed being isolated from the community while the girls did no work but devoted their time to learning from select village women how to be beautiful, both physically and morally. They also learned how to be virtuous and dutiful wives, housekeepers, and nurturing mothers. A celebratory parade reintroduced the initiated women into the village, which honored them with gifts.

Freestanding figures like this one were commissioned by a men’s age-grade association for display at secular public festivals held annually. During the festival, members paraded them around the village—much like the nkpu girls they portray and honor—and when the girls performed, the statue was a stationary display.

Adapted from

Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.