IGBO IKENGA HAND CARVED WOODEN STATUE:
FROM MULTIPLE OLD PRIVATE COLLECTIONS
CIRCA LATE 19TH CENTURY - EARLY 20TH CENTURY
HAND CARVED WOODEN STATUE
CIRCA LATE 19TH CENTURY - EARLY 20TH CENTURY
19 X 4 X 4 INCHES
literal meaning "place of strength") is a horned Alusi (deity) found
among the Igbo people in southeastern Nigeria. It is one of the most
powerful symbols of the Igbo people and the most common cultural
artifact. Ikenga is mostly maintained, kept or owned by men and
occasionally by women of high reputation and integrity in the society.
It comprises someone's Chi (personal god), his Ndichie (ancestors), aka
Ikenga (right hand), ike (power) as well as spiritual activation
through prayer and sacrifice.
Ikenga is specially found among the Northern Igbos of Anambra, Enugu, Delta and some parts of Kogi State. It is exclusively an Igbo symbol. Nevertheless, various peoples of Southern Nigeria have slightly different notions of the components of an individual personality, but all agree that these various aspects can only be affected through ritual and personal effort. Some variants of it are found in Ijaw, Ishan, Isoko, Urhobo and Edo areas. Among the Isoko people, there are three types of personal shrine images: Oma, which represents the "spirit double" that resides in the other world; Obo which symbolizes the right hand and personal endeavor and the lvri which stands for personal determination. In the Urhobo areas it is also regarded as Ivri and in the Edo areas it's called Ikegobo.
Ikenga requires consecration before usage. Normally, an Ikenga is consecrated in the presence of one's kinsmen or agemates by lineage head. Offerings of things like yam, cock, wine, kolanuts and alligator pepper are sacrificed to it. Consecrations are often more elaborate and occasionally less depending on the financial strength of the owner. If the owner is devoted, he feeds his Ikenga on a daily basis with Kola and wine and periodically, especially before an important undertaking, he offers sacrificial blood of a cock or ram to induce the spirit to help him succeed. Afterward, the owner also offers thanksgiving to his Ikenga for helping him achieve success. Success as believed, solely depends on their personal Chi, represented by Ikenga and the support of kinsmen.
The most famous type of ikenga is probably the "warrior," depicting a well-developed human figure with horns and a fierce expression. It is seated on a stool, holding objects in both hands. The right hand holds a knife with a pronounced handle and a slightly curved blade, the left hand a tusk or more often, a severed human head with eyes, nose, and mouth bulging out of the concave face. The warrior ikenga corresponds to the stage in life when men are expected to demonstrate their military prowess. Owned by many of the younger members of the age grade, it depicts the ideal young man: robust, wearing the warrior's grass skirt, and holding a knife and a severed human head. This pose used to be seen in warrior groups when they performed dances.
The knife is always held in the right hand, called aka ikenga (the ikenga hand), and the ikenga is also called a shrine to the right hand. In recent times the overt violent element of the severed head and knife has been replaced by metaphorical way as symbols of aggression. The most characteristic of all the iconographic elements of the ikenga, the horns (opi), also carries this lii, also carries this connotation. The Igbo proverb says, "The ram goes into a fight head first" (Ebune jị isi éjé ogụ); that is, one must plunge into a venture in order to succeed.
A second major ikenga type, an elaboration of the warrior form, has a superstructure with human or animal images, or both. The seated figure often displays a tusk in the left hand and a staff in the right. In many examples, ichi marks are represented on the face. Some of these figures, especially the very large ones, often are more than a meter high, do not belong to an individual but to an age set or a lineage segment. These community Ikenga figures stand for group rather than individual achievements and prestige, and demonstrate continuity between the individual and society. They are related to the display figures known as Ugo n'acho mma ("the eagle seeks out beauty") and display a great deal of artistic inventiveness.
In the simpler examples of this group, the superstructure on a disk base supports animal figures. Other large Ikenga have very intricate superstructures consisting of two horns that circle the sides of the head and continue upward to form another circle terminating in snake heads. Pointed protrusions occur on the lower part of the horns. Above the head are four ram heads and one or more leopards at the top. The motifs on the community Ikenga tend to have complex head dress signifying collective ownership. The motifs also depicts what the community is known for, for instance whether they are known as warriors, hunters, traders or predominantly farmers. During the annual festival, all male born during the previous year are brought before the community Ikenga and thus are validated as community numbers.
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