Symbol of the inner head (ibori)

Yoruba peoples
late 19th–early 20th century
more object details

General Description

This elaborately beaded and cowrie-embroidered abstract human form with a stylized head is called an ibori. It is a physical symbol of on one's essential nature and spiritual life (sometimes referred to as the "inner head"). Such miniature sculptures are concealed and protected by cowrie-covered ile ori or "house of the head" coffers [2005.13]. The head is emphasized in Yoruba art and thought. In sculpture, the head of a human being is unusually large in relation to the body. Adherents of traditional Yoruba religion make sacrifices to their "inner head" in the belief that the head contains Olodumare (God)'s spiritual power and His plan for an individual's personal destiny. Judging by its weight, this ibori has retained the consecrated materials packed inside of it that symbolize everything that is essential to a person's life. The identity of these materials is not known.

At the end of an individual's journey through life on earth, his ibori was placed on its side to indicate that a new journey to the Afterlife in orun (land of deities and ancestors) was beginning. Both the ibori and the ile ori were subsequently destroyed. The cowries and/or beads were scattered on the grave or spent by the survivors. This practice may explain the scarcity of ibori and ile ori.

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), 62.