Architectural sculpture depicting a monkey (ba'e)
- Ono Niha people
- late 19th–early 20th century
The posture, raised tail, open eyes, and bared teeth of this wooden monkey sculpture signify vigilance. This carving was originally attached to a tall post or a beam and was part of a group of sculptures that once adorned a great clan house. The downward-focused gaze suggests the animal stood watch, ready to warn against approaching harm or calamity.
In the past, the carved imagery on wall panels, beams, and posts of the great clan houses reflected the Ono Niha’s religious and cultural ideas about the cosmos and their place in it. The upper world and underworld were clearly distinguished by their inhabitants. Fish and crocodiles, for example, lived in the underworld. Their images were depicted on the large stone tables set up in front of a house. In contrast, birds and monkeys, which tend to settle in trees, were associated with the sky or upper world. Images of these animals appeared on the roof section of a house.
Roslyn Adele Walker, Ph.D., Senior Curator, The Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific, The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art, DMA Label copy, June 2013.