House of the head (ile ori)

CULTURE:
Yoruba peoples
DATE:
late 19th–early 20th century
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General Description

The smaller, elaborately beaded sculpture is an ibori, symbolizing a person’s ori inu (inner head, or an individual’s personal destiny) [2005.102]. The larger one is an ile ori, or “house of the head,” which simultaneously protects and celebrates the ibori. Their roughly conical shapes are similar to royal beaded crowns and Ifa divination tappers, and their bird imagery refers to the power of women to assure continuity of the lineage.

To ensure the ideal destiny of joining one’s ancestors after a full life, it is necessary to treat one’s inner head as a deity and honor it with prayers and offerings. An individual would invest in the largest and most elaborately decorated ibori and ile ori possible. This pair is decorated with European glass “seed” beads and cowries from the faraway Maldive Islands. Upon the death of the owner, both the ibori and ile ori were usually dismantled and the beads and cowries scattered on the late owner’s grave or spent as currency by the survivors.

Excerpt from

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