Ring depicting ritual sacrifice

Yoruba peoples
16th century
more object details

General Description

This casting depicts human sacrifice with images of severed heads and vultures feasting on bound and decapitated bodies. This ring also features an official from the society known as Ogboni or Oshugbo—worshippers of the Earth and a major political force. Dressed in regalia, the figure has scarification on his forehead, a tortoise, a pair of hairpin-like forms, and a vessel. The figures in this scene, identified through Yoruba oral traditions and religious beliefs, may be participating in an installation ceremony for the ruler of a satellite Yoruba kingdom that involved sacrifice and reporting of this deed to the paramount king of the Yoruba, the Oni of Ife.

In the distant past, Yoruba societies and provincial regions under their influence practiced human sacrifice in the context of grave rituals that benefited the entire community. Here, the vulture is a messenger of the gods, and his presence indicates the gods’ acceptance of the sacrifice.

Excerpt from

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