Seated female shrine figure

Igede peoples
early 20th century
more object details

General Description

This figure represents a female devotee of the anjenu (nature spirits); the scarification marks on her body may signify that she was initiated into womanhood and into the worship of the anjenu. Anjenu live in fast-moving rivers, massive ant hills, and the forest. They invade villages, bringing with them disease and disorder. They can be appeased by erecting a shrine to them and furnishing it with vessels of sacred water, food, modeled clay wild animals (symbolizing strength and power), and carved wooden figures representing successful petitioners. Sculptures such as this one, in combination with singing, honored the spirits more effectively than simply performing a ritual with sacred water.

Although this enshrined figure was probably viewed from the front, it was conceived as a three-dimensional form. Viewed from the front, the figure's torso appears to be an elongated cylinder. Staring intensely at the viewer, she is seated with her hands resting on her knees. Her mouth is open as if she were singing. From the side, the form slopes to a point just beyond her breasts and her feet. The figure's buttocks rest solidly on a cylindrical stool. Clearly, it was meant to be viewed from all angles. Traces of pigment remain on the figure. When the sculpture was in use, her coiffure and body were regularly refreshed with applications of white kaolin clay and ochre, respectively.

Adapted from

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

  • Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 146-147.