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Art and Trance among Yoruba Shango Devotees

Author(s): Margaret Thompson Drewal

Source: African Arts, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Nov., 1986), pp. 60-67+98-99
Published by: UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3336567 .
Accessed: 10/06/2014 22:11
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Shango Devotees

Plant Armstrong wrote of the
celts adorning Shango
dance staffs, "The self times the self is
power plus power - celt times celt,
He was concerned
here with the "Yorubaness" of the
aesthetic power of doubling rather than
with ethnographic description. To underscore Armstrong's idea, I would like
to offer in his memory some of that description.
The overall form of the dance staff
known as oshe is based on the neolithic


axe. Morphologically it is usually composed of three parts: the handle, a figure

or figures, and the double-axe motif,
recognized widely as a depiction of the
thundercelts that Shango hurls to earth
(Wescott &
during thunderstorms
Morton-Williams 1962) (Figs. 1,4; see also
Armstrong 1983: figs. 2, 5, 7-10, cover).1
The celts may be highly stylized or relatively naturalistic.
Within this basic format, artists play
on the forms, elaborating, inverting,
transposing, and transforming them.
The handle and the double celts are




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standard features, but figures are optional (Figs. 3, 16; Armstrong1983:figs.

1,4). Theiridentity and arrangementare
determined in part by regional stylistic
conventions, but also by negotiationsbetween artistsand patrons.In one oldoshe
in the Museum Rietburg,Zurich,reportedly collected in 1820, the conventional
format has been inverted so that the
twinned celts appearat the bottom of the
handle instead of the top (Fig. 1). Some
oshedo not depict the twinned celts at all
(Fig. 9). In these cases, a priest is usually
shown on top of the handle holding a
ram, an oshe, or a gourd rattle and/or
wearing a distinctive Shango priest's
hairdo.Thereis usually some such visual
identificationwith Shango.
The osheis in a sense a portablerepresentation of the caryatid containers
known as arugbathat often form the centerpieces of Shango shrines. Like many
oshe, Shango caryatidsshow female figures supporting the power of the deity
on top of their heads, in this case actual
celts. One Shango shrine in Ila Orangun
(Fig. 7) depicts a kneeling female supporting a bowl on her head that contains
a large Shango thundercelt, over which
the blood of a sacrificialcock is poured.
Anotherarugbaby an Anago Yorubaartist has a latchon the lid for lockingShango's vital force inside. Among extreme
western Yorubapeoples, the arms of the
centralfigure on the oshe are frequently
raised to support the twinned celts on
the head in the same manneras they are
in arugba(Fig. 18).
On one level, the head-loadingpose reflects actual behavior (Fig. 5). On another, it alludes to the female as receptacle, and to her head as containerfor the
power of the deity. Both of these ideas
are conveyed in western Yorubaland
during festivals when large sculptures
are placed in basins containing the vital
force of particulardeities that are then
placed on the heads of priestesses before
they proceed to a nearby stream to
gatherwaterand herbs. As the basins are
mounted on top of their heads, the
priestesses go instantly into possession
trance(Fig. 2). The fundamentalrole of a
priest among the Yoruba is that of a
medium between the world and the
spirit realm, that is, one who becomes
possessed by his or her deity.
During initiations into Yoruba priesthoods, novices go through extensive
training that in large part is devoted to
preparing them for spirit mediumship.
Initiation involves a symbolic death and
rebirth. It marks the person's break with
the past and consecration to the
From the day of rebirth until a new name
is bestowed, the initiate dwells in a
catatonic-like state and is called "a new
child" (omotun) (Verger 1954: 337).
During this period, the novices'
clothes are taken away, their heads are
shaved, and they are secluded in a dark



shrine where they must remain quiet

and still for some weeks. During this
period, the head is bathed regularly in
the ashe, or vital force, of the deity, made
up of an amalgam of leaves, blood of
animals, and pulverized minerals
(Verger1954:324;1969: 65, n. 2). Furthermore, the deity's asheis rubbedinto
incisions made in the shaved head. This
is thought to fix the deity's power in the
head and to stimulatepossession trance.
The initiateis now known as adoshu,one
who has received the ball of medicine, or
oshu, of the god. Later, special hairdos
are worn by the newly initiated to identify them with theirparticulargod and to
show that this is a head endowed with
power (Fig. 6). Finally,the devotee receives a special new name that suggests
the deity's hold or claim on him or her,
such as Odakusin, "The-one-whofainted-while-worshipping," implying
that this person fell into trance,signaling
the deity's strong influence.
With the deity's power inserted into
the head of the priestess during rites of
initiation, she becomes Shango's
medium, his conduit into the world.



Even in cases where men become possession priests among the Yoruba,they
are generally referred to as the "wives"
of the deity and often wear female garb
and hairstyles.MaleShango priests from
the town of Ede, for example, plait their
hair in two different female styles; in
Figure 6, the three priests on the left
wear the shukustyle, which refers to the
round basket in which marketwomen
carrytheir wares on their heads, and the
two on the right have the traditional
Yorubabridalhairstyleknown as agogo.2
And in Figure11 a male Oya priest from
the Ijebu Remo area poses wearing a
women's-style wrapper tied under the

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arms and Oya's cowrie vestment over

his left shoulder.
Even though Shango is a male deity,it
is women who are most often depicted
on figuratedoshe Shango. The spiritual
powers of women make them the primary candidates for priesthoods in
Yorubasociety. Just as women are nurturers of children, so are they also the
caretakers and nurturers of the gods,
while men in Yorubasociety are masqueraders.Duringa long nursing period

up to three years -

a woman's

menstruation is suppressed and she

practices sexual abstinence (Caldwell &
Caldwell 1977; Jelliffe 1953). At such
times she is considered ritually pure,
perhaps one reason why nursing priest-

esses are often depicted inriYorubaart

(Fig. 4). The close physical and emotional bond that develops between
mother and child during the first three
years of a child's life creates an image of
woman as soothing, indulgent, patient,
and enduring (Abiodun 1976;in press).
Biological realities and child-rearing
practices are basic to concepts of
women's spiritualpower.
Female hairdos worn by Shango
priests in the Egbado area (Fig. 14) and
also seen on figuresin oshe- a male in
Figure9- convey the idea of possession
trance by signaling that the head has
been preparedwith medicine. Thus the
head is shaved clean to the crown and
braidedfrom that point back. The reced-

ing hairlineexpands the forehead, creating the illusion of swelling, in reference

to the state of possession trancein which
the head is said to swell or expand (wu).
Although the oshe in Figure 9 is without double celts, it is identifiableby the
male figure's distinctive hairdo with
raised, paired braids down the back of
the head that play on celts and are also
reminiscent of the way ram's horns,
another symbol of Shango's butting
force, curve backand aroundclose to the
head. The kneeling figurehas a cloth tied
aroundhis waist, for this is the firstthing
a priest does when he wants to make a
sacrificeto his deity. Male priests in this
way become ritually receptive and are
therefore like women in their relationship to the deity.
Most oshe are carved in wood, but
there are also brass, iron, and beaded
ones. The form and medium of a brass
osheowned by the late Arabaof Isale Eko
suggest referencesto the Ogboni society
(Fig. 8). Like edan Ogboni, the seated
brass male-female couple is linked together at the tops of their heads. The
doubling theme is played out further in
the chameleons perched on the outer
edges of the twinned celts. In contrast,
the form of a largered, blue, black, gold,
and white beaded oshe from western
Yorubalandrefers only crypticallyto the
double axe motif (Fig.16).The entire surface of the oshebecomes a vast forcefield
of lightning, energized with multicolored zigzag patterns that radiateoutward from the central shaft.
The visual elements of oshe Shango
refer directly to the kinds of contexts in
which they are placed. The double
axehead is endowed with power (Smith
1967:99), serving protective as well as
decorative functions. Thus, oshe are
hung over doorways to protect houses
from lightning and from thefts, situated
at entrances to farms to inhibit trespassers, and carried on dangerous outings, such as battles, to protect their
owners (Lawal1970:94-95).
More frequently,oshe adorn shrines.
Clustersof small unfiguratedoshefill various kinds of containers- wood, gourd,
and enamel - that are then placed on'
top of Shango pots and inverted mortars. In one Shango shrine in the city of
Abeokuta, calabash containers full of unfigurated oshe sit on top of decorative
Shango pots. One pot repeats the thundercelt motif in high relief near its
mouth. Meanwhile, actual thundercelts
are displayed in a plate on the floor in
front, next to a ceramic cow.3 In another
shrine in the Egbado area, oshe are placed
together with Shango's gourd rattles
(shere) in a large gourd container surmounting a whitewashed pot. Large
figurated oshe then lean up against the
pot, and an unfigurated iron oshe lies
across a bowl of thundercelts in front.


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Sometimes oshe are placed together in

the company of other deities, as in a
Shango shrine in Ijebu-Ode where sacred twin figures and animal horns representing Oya, who is the goddess of the
Niger River and the whirlwind, are
gathered together with oshe and placed
atop an inverted mortar. Shango's relationships to other deities are often visualized in oshe. Thus, twins are the central theme in an oshe in the Neuberger
Museum, State University of New York,
Purchase (Fig. 4). A mother sits crosslegged holding an oshe in her right hand so
that she can nurse one child at her left
breast. The other child is on her back.
Twins are considered Shango's children
in many parts of Yorubaland, while Oya
is his second wife, after Oshun, who is
not considered as strong (Thompson
1971a & b).
Similarly, in an Oya shrine, a cowrieand-horn vestment hangs on the back
wall, draped with old, rolled-up Ijebu
cloths known as itagbe. To the left is
Shango's arugba filled with thundercelts
blackened with sacrificial residue. In
ritual performances, the cowrie vestment is removed from the shrine by
priests and carried outside. Many oshe
from the Awori Yoruba area allude to
Shango's association with Oya by depict-



ing priests carrying the cowrie vestment

over the left shoulder (Fig. 10; see also
Fagg 1982: pl. 11). Such oshe show, rather
realistically, how the vestment actually
looks when worn by priests in procession (Fig. 11). Like the Aworioshe Shango
that often depict them, such items move
back and forth between shrine and performance contexts, each context evoking
the other in the same way that the symbols themselves move back and forth
across object types to make crossreferences.
A great number of the objects that
operate in this fashion are designed to
be hand held, like the neolithic axe on
which the oshe's form is based. In the city
of Abeokuta, where the nineteenthcentury civil wars produced a powerful
warrior class, Egungun masquerades
from warrior's families, who are also devotees of Shango, wieldoshe on their outings around the town to assert their
power. Wearing a medicinally treated
tunic full of potent objects - human figures, combs, knives, tortoise shells one Egungun with a grotesque yellow
face raises his oshe in victory (Fig. 12).
Another warrior Egungun with a tray of
images on his head carries an oshe with a
kneeling female figure.
In other contexts oshe are carried to
ceremonies by priests of Shango as insignia of their office. Thus, a Shango
priestess dances with her miniature staff
during performances of the Egungun society. In this context, the oshe not only
identifies her office, but implies that

Shango lends his support to the Egunattested to by the

gun ceremonies,
priestess's very presence and participation in the proceedings while displaying
her staff. During rituals devoted specifically to Shango, the priestess, known as
Iya Shango (Shango's Wife), dresses in
richly colored Shango garments; in her
left hand, she carries a medicine horn
wrapped in red cloth, and in her right,
the oshe and a fan (Fig. 14).
On one level, hand-held objects carried by priests during dance identify the
power of their deity Iron blades of various descriptions evoke Ogun's role as
hunter and warrior; miniature flintlock
guns suggest similar ideas; and miniature iron pincers evoke the work of the
blacksmith (M.T. Drewal, forthcoming).
Like the Shango priestess in Figure 14,
mediums usually carry a combination of
implements in their hands, which are
often held rather statically, moving only
in response to active shoulders. When a
Shango priest carries an oshe, Shango's
presence is implied even before the onset
of possession trance. The oshe speaks of
Shango's vital force and his stormy




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mode of action; the dance on the other

hand evokes the dynamics required for
that action.
Although Iya Shango carriesher oshe
in her right hand and her medicine horn
in the left, it is more common that oshe
arecarriedin the left in possession trance
contexts (Figs. 15, 16). Even in formal
portraits,priests often choose to display
the oshe in their left hand (Fig. 18).
Likewiseosheare usually depicted in the
left hand of ritualfiguresas in a figurein
the collection of Mrs. William Bascom
(Fig. 17; see also H.J. Drewal 1986:fig.
12). Note that the gourd rattle is carried
in the right, just as it is in Figure18.
In possession tranceperformance,the
left side is stressed to symbolizethe spirit
realm. Thus, the deities greet the community with the left hand; that is, the
possessed priests, whose heads have
been mounted by the deities, greet the
communitywith the left (Fig. 13).Justas
Shango mediums most often carry the
oshe in the left, priests of Oya and
Shango carry the cowrie vestment over
the left shoulder (Figs. 10, 11), priests of
Ogun carryiron implements in their left
hands, and priests of Elegba, the divine
messenger, carry a cudgel in the left.
These power symbols in the left signal a
visitationfromthe spiritrealm,but at the
same time they assert the authorityand
the responsibility of the medium to be

the god's conduit into the world. The left

in Yorubasociety is also used by Ogboni
members to greet each other and guests
inside the Ogboni lodge on specialmeeting days; and when Egungun society
members don their masquerades, they
step into the cloth with the left foot.
These instances, too, establish a relationship with the realm of ancestral
Lefthandedness in ritual has a common purpose - to establishand suggest
spiritual communication (M.T. Drewal
1975).As one devotee put it, "Theright is
used by men; the left is used by the
gods." The prevalent interpretation in
the literatureon the Yorubaof the unclean, antisocial left hand is misleading
in thatit does not allow us to perceivethe
importance of the left for spiritualcommunicationin a ritualcontext. The left is
reserved for ritual and must not, therefore, be used in ordinary social intercourse. The world (aye),a domain where
people reside only temporarily,is ritually
separated from the otherworld(orun),a
metaphysical realm of permanent existence. Seen from this perspective, it is
then possible to understandwhy the social use of the left is unacceptable and
even considered to be deviant behavior.
The right hand often carries percussion instruments shaken initially to
invoke the god and ultimately to pro-




nounce "ashe,ashe,ashe"(so be it) in response to prayers. Lending efficacy to

prayers and invocations, the sound of
the gourd rattle or bell helps to bring
about possession tranceand, laterin the
ceremony, to enforce the words of the
deities, spoken throughthe mediumship
of the priest. To return to the Bascom
piece, the left hand holds the oshe, while
in the right hand, accuratelyreflecting
actual performance, the figure carries
the shere,the gourd rattleused to invoke
Shango and to assert, "Sobe it"(Fig.17).
Hand-held objects particular to the
deities and carried in the left inevitably
signal possession trance,when the deity
"mounts" (gun) the head of his priest.
When this happens, the devotee (elegun,
"one who is mounted")) literally becomes the god. Temporarily,the animating spirit of the deity (emi orisha) displaces that of the person being mounted.
Whatever the priest does from the moment he or she enters the trance state is
thought to represent the god's own actions.
Among the Yoruba,possession trance
states are expressed through the medium of dance. To my knowledge, there is
no instance of possession trance among
the Yorubathat does not occuras dance,


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or in association with dance.4 Understanding spirit mediumship in Yoruba

society is thus criticalto understanding
the meaning that oshe Shango have for
those who use and experiencethem. The
deities themselves are never explicitly
depicted. Rather the images that dominate oshe, and Yorubasculpture generally, depict mediators - priests and
priestesses whose inner heads (ori inu)
have been preparedat initiationinto the
priesthood to receive the deity's spiritin
possession trance.
Invocations,praise poetry,music, and
dance are all essential to Yorubaritual
performances in which spiritual forces
are actualized. Invocations and drumming performed prior to the onset of
possession trancebringShango into contact with his priests. Through dance,
Shango then materializesin the phenomenal world. Shango's mediums gaze
downward; their dance movements di-



minish. A change in attitude occurs:

from outgoing and playful to concentrated, serious, and inwardly focused.
As if bound to the spot, the mediums
stop moving theirfeet; upper torsos veer
to the side, heads drop, and left knees
quiver, causing their bodies to tremble.
The priestsin this state arecalled"horses
of the gods" (eshin orisha). Attendants
rush to straighten their cloths and bind
their waists and breasts tightly in much
the same way a rider saddles a horse,
pulling the straps tightly to secure the
saddle in place, for Shango must mount
and ride his medium. At this point, the
mediums are fully transformedinto the
deity.They repeatedlylicktheirlips in an
agitated fashion. Their upper torsos
drop, the heads roll back, and eyes roll
upward. Attendants quickly close their
eyelids and bring their heads forward.
The final sign that Shango is present is
signaled when the medium emits a deep
gutteralyell. It is said that when the god
mountsa medium'shead he rootsthe person's feet to the earth. Thus, attendants
release possessed devotees by slapping
or stepping on the tops of their feet.
Still possessed, the mediums then take
giant steps, leading with the whole left
side of theirbodies, and make their way
to the gatheredcrowd. Hands areplaced
on the hips, and knees and feet are lifted
and extended forward. After greeting
the entire assemblagewith "Ekuo!," the
mediums sing, dance, and pray Shango
in this way directs the drummers.
During the performance, spectators
give money to Shango and the drummers. The amount ranges from several
cents to one dollar, the average being
about twenty cents. By "spending
money" (ninonwo)for Shango, spectators receive special recognition and
blessing fromhim. In a sense they invest
in his dynamicpower, and in returnthey
receive the benefit of that power.
Shango's dances express the natureof
his vital force. In all of them, the head is
calm; in contrast, the shoulders and
arms are active, especially the shoulder
blades or scapulae, which are repetitively raised and lowered. This is a
marked stylistic feature of Ohori Yoruba
dancing known as ejika,a term that refers
both to the shoulders and the movement
associated with the shoulder blades.
Such shoulder gestures have an amazing
range of dynamic possibilities, from gentle and subtle to forceful and exaggerated, and from fluid and smooth to sharp
and angular. As performed by Shango,
however, they are distinctly forceful,
sharp, and exaggerated, in keeping with
his stormy manner. The oshe in the left
hand then adds its own statement to the
intensity of the shoulder action, as the
priestess dances with knees flexed and
torso pitched forward from the hips
(Fig. 15).

The Iya Shango in Figure14 describes

her own Shango dance as powerful. It is
"a dance performed kikan kikan with
forcefulness"(ijo kikankikanto l'agbara).
The word kikanis ideophonic and simulates the quality of the effort in Shango's dance, that is, one in which a dominant motif is raising (ki) and percussively dropping (kan)the shoulders, or
the torso, repetitively (i.e., kikankikan).
Ki is quick, sharp, and high (or up) in
tone; kan is forceful, full, and heavy,
dropping in tone in a manneranalogous
to the way Iya Shango plunges her body
forwardin her dance, thrustingher oshe,
fan, and medicine horn toward the
Accordingto Rowland Abiodun, kikan
connotes a forcefulrelease of energy as if
under pressure (personal communication, 1981).The dance evokes this in its
speed and thrust, playing on the
dynamics of lightning and thunder- in
that order - that are associated with
Shango. Indeed, lightning and thunder
are felt in the power of their actual
dynamic qualities, qualities that in turn
reflect the nature of Shango's own
power as it is expressed in dance and in
the osheitself, particularlyevident in the
colorful zigzag patterning on the oshe in
When Shango leaves the head of the
medium, he withdraws suddenly. The
body tenses up, and if the possessed
medium is near a spectator, she (or he)
grabsonto that person and holds tightly
Attendants must be ready to catch the
medium and help her to the sidelines to
be seated gently. Once the deity leaves,
there are a number of measures used to
clear the medium's head and return her
to normalcy Attendants pour gin over
the head and rubit in, blow into the ears
and onto the top of the head, press on
the base of the neck, press their foreheads against the medium's forehead
and tap the back of their heads, stretch
the arms up and then place them on the
knees, pull the legs out straightand forward by the big toes, and all the while
call the medium's name. The medium
comes to as if having just awakened from
a deep sleep and sits quietly for a while
gazing into space.
Spirit mediumship is the most significant role of a priest in Yoruba culture.
The uniting of devotee and deity into one
image often causes some confusion for
researchers trying to establish the identity of figures represented in Yoruba
sculpture. Sculpture represents the
union of the priest and deity in the depiction of the former with the costumes,
hairstyles, and paraphernalia identified
with the latter. The twinned celts represent the inner spiritual reality of the
priest with the power of Shango imbedded in the head and emanating from the
top (cf. M.T. Drewal 1977).


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The osheShango is thus a depiction of

the priestand deity simultaneously This
is explicit in another Egbado priestess's
dance staff that the owner dressed up in
the same style as her own garments. She
tied the cloth around the waist of the
female figure in the same manner that
she has tied her own. The priestess gives
a particularidentity to the oshecarriedin
the left hand as a representation of its
owner's innate power, just as the oshe
defines the priestess. In this context, the
oshe acquires specificity. Likewise, the
Egungun in Figure 12 gives particular
identity to the oshe just as the oshe
signals the spiritual affiliation of the
It is in performance that the Shango
priestbrings an active deity - not merely a representation - into the phenomenal world for the community. To
become Shango through possession
tranceis the primaryrole of a medium.
When the oshe and the priest/deity are
broughttogether in the same context, as
they arein Figures14and 15, they referto
each other.
An examinationof the oshe'sformsand
meanings in relation to the various contexts in which they appear allows us to
see the common threads of thought running throughout, as well as the creative
divergences. The concept of possession
trance is a central, underlying theme.
The head of the Shango priest has been
prepared with power substances that
have been inserted to stimulate possession trance. The top of the head is the
point of entry or the channel for the deity, and this is conveyed with shaved
foreheads and special female hairdos. It
is at the top of the head of the carvedfigure where the pairedcelts inosheShango
usually emerge. Inversions and transformationsof this convention, as in the
Rietburgoshe (Fig. 1) and the one with
two braidsin Figure9, are playful twists
on the rule and serve to underscore it.
Thisis consistentwith the shifts between
left and right hands. In either case, the
double-celt motif - inverted, transposed, and transformed- is a primary
symbolof Shango's vital forceplayed out

in countless ways. Devotee and deity are

synthesized both within the oshe itself
and in performance, when it is carried by
the priest in possession trance.
The figure does not depict a medium
in a trance state literally, but rather the
vital potential of the medium whose
head is endowed with Shango's power.
The devotee and deity represent a duality analogous to the twinning of celts
themselves. The two have a symbiotic
relationship - in Armstrong's words,
"the self times the self.., power plus
Shango squared." The oshe
Shango, like possession trance performance, is essentially about that relaOI




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WILLETT,notes, frompage 53
1. Though he was posted back to Esie for a time in 1959-60 to
work on the restoration of the broken stone figures (Dept. of
Antiquities, Annual Report, 1958-62, Lagos, n.d., p. 24). He
had worked on the same task in 1957 before joining me in Ife
(Dept. of Antiquities, Annual Report,1957-58, Lagos, 1961, pp.
2-3). This work is outlined in Stevens 1978: 10.
2. Brief reference to Akeredolu's thorn carvings willbe found
in Bascom and Gebauer 1953:43, pl. 26, and Bascom1976: 317.
See also "Thorn Carvings by Native Nigerian Artist" (Design,
no. 47 [Sept. 1945] p. 8, with three illustrations).
3. Dalziel 1937: 117, citing Irvine 1930 as authority for the
statement about Ashanti.
4. In a later work Irvine (1961:189)writes, "The spines are
carved into little figures or into letters used for embossing,
and both these are sometimes sold in West African markets."
This would appear to reflect the spread of figure carving first
introduced by Akeredolu.
5. The head had been broken off and repaired with fish glue.
It broke again on its way back to Glasgow, so has been repaired again. It had been exposed more than the other two
pieces, so even after careful cleaning it is darker in color.
6. Letter of January 2, 1986, Robson to Willett.
7. A life-size sculpture by one of Akeredolu's apprentices,
Lamuren, no doubt reflects Akeredolu's work on a larger
scale: see Willettl1966:36-37,pl. 1. John and Susan Picton own
a relief panel by Akeredolu carved some time before 1968. It
represents a man playing a talking drum (Fig. 22).
8. Annual Report of the Antiquities Branch 1950-51, Ibadan
(Government Printer), 1952, p. 1, para. 3.
9. Annual Reportof the Antiquities Servicefor the Year1953-54,
Lagos (Federal Government Printer), n.d. (1956), p. 5, para.
10. Annual Reportof the Antiquities Servicefor the Year1954-55,
Lagos (Federal Government Printer), n.d. (1956), p. 3. para.
11. Annual Reportof the Antiquities Servicefor the Year1956-57,
Lagos (Federal Government Printer), 1%1, p. 2.
12. Note that the pieces in Figures 11 and 13 were repaired by
relatives to whom I gave them, so it is difficult to tell whether
the breaks coincide with original joins. The legs of the pounding woman (Fig. 13) might have been carved separately.
13. Nigeria magazine, no. 14, June 1938, p. 138. Soft wood figure carvings.
14. Mrs. Robson has promised her Thomas Ona carvings to
the Hunterian Museum too. Enclosure with letter to Willett of
January 2, 1986.

15. I sent a copy of the manuscript of this paper to Chief

Akeredolu's widow, Chief (Mrs.) M.R. Brook, who kindly
supplied the following additional information. The black ink
was initially Kandahar Indian ink, later replaced by Pelikan,
and the white was Chinese white, all formerly obtainable at
local bookshops. Initially he used tube glue (Seccotine or
something similar) but later Araldite epoxy resin. He lost his
righy eye in 1963, and after the initial shock and convalescence he continued carving the thorn figures: in the last years
of his life they became a little larger although still retaining
the original elegance and delicacy. Chief G.A. Aghara has recently started a small carving studio and boutique (Nigeria
Arts Centre, P.O. Box 124, Owo). His figures are a little larger
and considerably less delicate than Akeredolu's; nevertheless they are very lively and attractive. He carves others in his
little shop on Owo High Street using a penknife and does not
appear to have any assistant, nor does he seem very prosperous. Of course very few people in Nigeria are today
Akeredolu, Justus. 1958. "Ife Bronzes," Nigeria 59:341-53.
Bascom, William. 1976. "Changing African Art," in Ethnicand
TouristArts, ed. Nelson H.H. Graburn. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Bascom, William and Paul Gebauer. 1953. Handbookof WestAfrican Art. Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Museum (The
Bruce Publishing Co.).
Dalziel, J.M. 1937. The Useful Plants of West TropicalAfrica.
London: Crown Agents for Overseas Governments and
Irvine, F.R. 1930. Plants of the Gold Coast. London: Oxford
University Press.
Irvine, F.R. 1961. WoodyPlants of Ghanawith SpecialReferenceto
Their Uses. London: Oxford University Press.
Stevens, Jr., Phillips. 1978. TheStonelmagesofEsie. Ibadanand
Lagos: Ibadan University Press and the Nigerian Federal
Department of Antiquities.
Willett, F. 1966. "On the Funeral Effigies of Owo and Benin..., "Man n.s. 1,1.
Willett, F.1971.AfricanArt:An Introduction.New York:Praeger
PEEK, notes, from page 47
1. Personal communication, February 8, 1982.
2. It is interesting to note that while the oma image "should"
reflect the sex of its "owner," this was not as critical as the
gender distinction in obo images (see Fig. 2).
3. This corresponds to the information Foss gathered among
the Urhobo where, for example, a troublesome child has a
small representation of ivri tied around his neck to aid in controlling his behavior (1976:81).Foss (1976:106)comments extensively on his final choice of iphri as the proper phonetic
representation of the Urhobo term; but for simplicity and because the complex is essentially the same among the Isoko
and Urhobo clans, I have used the Isoko name ivri throughout this essay
4. It is especially unfortunate that I was not allowed to see
this ivri, because Okpale is remembered as an Ukuane
(Kwale) Igbo settlement. If this ivri was truly theirs, it would
have provided invaluable evidence for comparison of Isoko
and Western Igbo traditions and artifacts. It may look like an
ivri (Fig. 5) photographed in Ase, a village on Ase River that
was originally Isoko but now is Ndosimili (Riverain) Igbo.
5. Although I did not encounter the association of ivri with
slave-raiding recorded by Hubbard (1948:230, 252) and Foss
(1975:134;1976:87), it is certainly a comparable concern.
6. Foss says thativri belong only to individuals and that those
who are wealthy demonstrate their status by commissioning
larger images. (Nevertheless, his informant told him that a
person should not hold too large an ivri or its power would
overwhelm him; this parallels the Isoko belief that the larger
carvings serve to intensify the holder's "ivri-ness.") According to Foss, the ivri of an important Urhobo leader is maintained and served by the senior male of that social unit; as the
lineage expands, so does the realm of the carving. Although
holders of the Igbu title (warriors who have killed another
man) are noted as owning ivri, Foss makes no mention of
Urhoboivri's reflecting war leadership or political structure as
their Isoko counterparts do.
7. Other sources with ivri illustrated include Underwood
(1964:43, pl. 26), Fagg and Plass (1964:33-34), and Horton
(1965:pl. 66).
8. We should also recall such transitional communities as Ase
(Fig. 5) and possibly older Western Igbo clan groups.
9. Also, as Bradbury suggests, means of attaining socially acceptable personal success probably change over time (1961:


Armstrong, Robert Plant. 1971. The Affecting Presence: An
Essay in HumanisticAnthropology.Urbana: University of 11linois Press.
Armstrong, Robert Plant. 1975. Wellspring:On the Myth and
Sourceof Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Armstrong, Robert Plant. 1981. The Powers of Presence:Consciousness, Myth, and AffectingPresence. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Boston, John. 1977. Ikenga Figures among the North-west Igbo
and the Igala. London: Ethnographica and the Nigerian
Federal Department of Antiquities.
Bradbury, R.E. 1961. "Ezomo's Ikegoboand the Benin Cult of
the Hand," Man 61, 165: 129-38.
Fagg, William and Margaret Plass. 1964. AfricanSculpture:An

Anthology. London: Studio Vista and Dutton.

Foss, W Perkins. 1975. "Images of Aggression: Ivwri Sculpture of the Urhobo," in African Images: Essays in African
Iconology,eds. D.F. McCall and E.G. Bay pp. 133-43. New
Foss, W. Perkins. 1976. "The Arts of the Urhobo Peoples of
Southern Nigeria." Ph.D. dissertation, Yale University
Horton, Robin. 1965. KalabariSculpture.Lagos: Department of
Hubbard, J.W.1948. TheSoboof the Niger Delta. Zaria: Gaskiya
Peek, Philip M. 1976. "An Ethnohistorical Study of Isoko Religious Traditions." Ph.D. dissertation, Indiana University
Peek, Philip M. 1981a. "The Power of Words in African Verbal
Arts," Journalof AmericanFolklore94, 371: 19-43.
Peek, Philip M. 1981b. "Figure (Ivri)," in ForSpiritsand Kings,
ed. S. Vogel, pp. 140-43. New York:Metropolitan Museum
of Art.
Rubin, Arnold. 1976. Figurative Sculpturesof the Niger River
Delta. Los Angeles: Gallery K.
Underwood, Leon. 1964. Figures in Woodof WestAfrica. London: Alec Tiranti.
Vlach, John Michael. 1982. Review of ThePowersof Presenceby
Robert Plant Armstrong, in AfricanArts 15, 4: 82-84.
Vogel, Susan. 1974. Gods of Fortune: The Cult of the Hand in
Nigeria. New York:Museum of Primitive Art.
Wittmer, Marcilene K. and William Arnett. 1978. ThreeRivers
of Nigeria. Atlanta: High Museum of Art.
CROWLEY,notes, frompage 59
An earlier version of this paper was read at the meeting of the
African Studies Association, Bloomington, October 21-24,
1. Full citations of the following historical sources can be
found in Herskovits 1938, vol. 2: 373-76.
Armstrong, Robert Plant. 1971. The Affecting Presence, An
Essay in HumanisticAnthropology.Urbana.
Bascom, William. AfricanArts. 1967. Berkeley
Bay, Edna G. 1985. Iron Altars of the Fon People of Benin. Atlanta.
Blackmun, Monica Lee. 1978. "The Asen of Dahomey: Iron
Altars from the People's Republic of Benin." M.A. thesis,
University of California, Santa Barbara.
Burton, Captain Sir Richard F.1893. A Mission to Gelele,Kingof
Dahomey..., 2 vols. London.
Crowley, Daniel J. 1982. "Betises:Fon Brass Genre Figures,"
AfricanArts 15, 2: 56-58, 87.
Dalzel, Archibald. 1793. The History of Dahomey, An Inland
Kingdomof Africa. London.
Forbes, F.E. 1851. Dahomeyand the Dahomans:being The Journals of TwoMissions to the King of Dahomey,and Residenceat
His Capital, in the Years1849 and 1850. London.
Garner, Nancy. 1978. "Dahomean Portable Altars." M.A.
thesis, Columbia University.
Herskovits, Melville J. 1938. Dahomey:An Ancient WestAfrican
Kingdom.New York.
Herskovits, Melville J. and Frances S. Herskovits. 1934. "The
Art of Dahomey, I-Brass Casting and Appliqub Cloths,"
AmericanMagazineof Art 27,2: 67-76.
Herskovits, Melville J. and Frances S. Herskovits. 1958.
DahomeanNarrative:A Cross-CulturalAnalysis. Evanston.
Leuzinger, Elsy 1960. Africa:TheArt of the NegroPeoples.London.
Mercier, Paul, 1952. LesAse du Muse d'Abomey.Dakar.
Mercier, Paul. 1954. "The Fon of Dahomey," in AfricanWorlds,
ed. Daryll Forde. London.
Mount, Marshall. 1973. African Art: The Yearssince 1920.
Murdock. George Peter. 1950. Africa, Its Peopleand TheirCulture History. New York.
Plass, Margaret. 1956. African TribalSculpture. Philadelphia.
Rawson, Phillip. 1973. Primitive EroticArt. London.
Robbins, Warren. 1966. African Art in American Collections.
New York.
Skertchly, J.A. 1874. Dahomeyas it is; beinga Narrativeof Eight
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Sydow, Eckart von. 1930. Handbuchder AfrikanischenPlastik.
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Vogel, Susan and Francine N'diaye. 1985. AfricanMasterpieces
in the Mus&ede I'Homme.New York.
M. T. DREWAL,notesfrom page 67
1. A condensed version of this paper was read at the 23rd
Annual African Studies Association Conference, Philadelphia, Octoberl15-18,1980. I wish to thank Henry John Drewal
for research assistance in the field during the period that the
material for this paper was gathered, and I especially wish to
thank the many Yoruba friends and colleagues who have
shared over the years their knowledge and experience.
2. The shu is oshu is the same as in shuku and has to do with
3. Since this shrine was also for Agemo - concealed behind
the curtains - the ceramic cow may refer to the preferred
sacrificial animal of Agemo priests, which alternates each
year between the cow and the bull.
4. The only exception I can think of is in the context of initiation when the novice dwells for a period of time in a mild
catatonic-like state.
Abiodun, Rowland. 1976. "The Concept of Women in Tradi-


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All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

tional Yoruba Religion and Art." Paper presented at the

Conference on Nigerian Women and Development in Relation to Changing Family Structure, University of Ibadan,
April 26-30.
Abiodun, Rowland. In press. "Woman in Yoruba Religious
Images: An Aesthetic Approach," in Visual Art as Social
Commentary,ed. John Picton. London: School of Oriental
and African Studies, University of London.
Armstrong, Robert Plant, 1983. "Oshe Shango and the
Dynamic of Doubling," African Arts 16, 2:28-33.
Caldwell, J.C. and P. Caldwell. 1977. "The Role of Marital
Sexual Abstinence in Determining Fertility: A Study of the
Yoruba of Nigeria," Population Studies 31, 2:193-217.
Drewal, Henry John. 1986. "African Art at Cleveland State
University," African Arts 19, 2:56-63, 91-92.
Drewal, Margaret Thompson. 1975. "Symbols of Possession:
A Study of Movement and Regalia in an Anago-Yoruga
Ceremony," Dance ResearchJournal7, 2:15-24.
Drewal, MargaretThompson. 1977. "Projections from the Top
in Yoruba Art," African Arts 11, 1:43-49, 91-92.
Drewal, Margaret Thompson. Forthcoming. "Dancing for
Ogun in Yorubaland and in Brazil," in Africa's Ogun: Old
Worldand New, ed. Sandra Barnes.
Fagg, William. 1982. YorubaSculptureof WestAfrica. Descriptive
ed. Bryce Holcombe. New
Catalog by John Pemberton HIII,
York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Feeding among the Yoruba of Ibadan," The WestAfrican MedicalJournal n.s. 2,3:111-22.
Lawal, Babatunde. 1970. "YorubaSango Sculpture in Historical Retrospect." Ph.D. dissertation, Indiana University.
Smith, Robert S.1967. "YorubaArmament," Journalof African
History 8, 1:87-106.
Thompson, Robert Farris. 1971a. Black Gods and Kings. Los
Angeles: University of California.
Thompson, Robert Farris. 1971b. "Sons of Thunder," African
Arts 4, 3:8-13, 77-80.
Verger,Pierre. 1954. "Role Jou? par l'Etat d'Hbtb&udeau cours
de l'Initiation des Novices aux Cultes des Orisha et Vodun," Bulletin de I.FA.N., ser. B, 16, 3-4:322-40.
Verger, Pierre. 1969. "Tranceand Convention in Nago-Yoruba
Spirit Mediumship," in Spirit Mediumshipand Society in Africa, eds. J. Beattie and J. Middleton, pp. 50-66. New York:
Africana Publishing Co.
Wescott, Joan and Peter Morton-Williams. 1%2. "The Symbolism and Ritual Context of the Yoruba Laba Shango,"
Journalof the Royal AnthropologicalInstitute 92:23-37.
WAHLMAN,notes, from page 76
1. See Herskovits (1941,1955), Courlander (1960), Szwed and
Abraham (1979), and Wood (1974).
2. American Indian traditions appear mostly in Afro-Latin
American textiles and Mardi Gras costumes. African ideas
also occur in Seminole Indian patchwork textiles.
3. Herskovits goes on to say: "The term penitence has been
taken from church terminology, and the motivating sanction
derives equally from African and Christian concepts; for
example, the wearing of the garment is a compliment to the
African deities represented by the colors, while the various
rules about abstinence during its term of wearing is the European pattern of penitence."
4. Personal communication: Rosalind Jeffries, 1980; and
Marie-Jeanne Adams, 1983.
5. The earlier quilt was exhibited at the Cotton Fair in Athens,
Georgia, in 1886. Purchased in 1891 by Jennie Smith, it was
eventually given to the Smithsonian Institution. Its display at
the 1896 Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta resulted in the
commissioning of the second Bible quilt as a gift for the
Reverend Charles Culber Hall. This quilt was given to the
Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1964.
6. Retention of leopard society traditions makes sense in
terms of slave trading history, for Old Calabar, at the mouth of
the Cross River, was a major slave port. Check symbolism is
retained in secret society costumes in Cuba, where an equally
great number of Cross River peoples were sent.
7. Trudier Harris (pers. com., March 1984) tells me this concept derives from the Afro-American practice of leaving a
Bible open at night; the power of religious words would protect a family against evil. And Roger Abrahams (pers. com.,
1985) related that in many literate cultures, one put a Bible
under a pillow tohave a wish fulfilled or toprotect a child; the
practice of enclosing magical holy words to increase their
power is found widely in early literate cultures. He noted that
thelBible is used not only as an amulet butdasa divining tool as
well; a person looking for guidance would open the Bible and
read the first verse he encountered, and it would contain a
sign indicating what action to take.
8. In Brazil Thompson (1981:18) found variations on this
theme; one example has writing on the red plastic film covering styrofoam.
9. Jean Ellen Jones, personal communication, 1984.
10. The y in mooyo lightly changes to a j (Robert Farris
Thompson, pers. com., 1984).
11. This work is best seen from a distance in contrast to pastel
New England quilts meant to be inspected in intimate settings.
12. Zora Neal Hurston (1931:385) documented the following
color symbolism: red for victory; pink for love; green for driving off evil spirits; blue for success and protection and for
causing death; yellow for money; brown for drawing money
and people; lavender for causing harm; and black for death or
evil. For Pecolia Warner (pers. com., 1980) the colors in her

quilts also had meanings beyond their aesthetic function. She

said: "Red represents blood. But I like to put it in quilts makes it brighter and show up. Blue is for truth. White is for
peace... When a person dies you see the family wear all
black. In a quilt that doesn't represent mourning. That makes
it show up. They say that gold is for love. Silver is for
Brass is for trouble.... Yellow is like gold; it means love."
13. For example, their reluctance may stem from the incompatibility of Vodun symbols with Christianity.
Adams, Marie-Jeanne. 1980. "The Harriet Powers Pictorial
Quilts," BlackArt 3, 4.
Bass, Ruth. 1973. 'Mojo' and 'The Little Man,' in Mother
Wit and the Laughing Barrel, ed. Alan Dundes. New York:
Prentice Hall.
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Current Anthropologists," CurrentAnthropology14, 4:35772.
Bunseki, Fu-Kiau. 1969. Nza Kongo, Kinshasa.
Chase, Judith. 1980. "Afro-American Heritage from AnteBellum Black Craftsmen," in Afro-American Folk Arts and
Crafts. Southern FolkloreQuarterly, ed. William Ferris.
Cole, Herbert and Doran Ross. 1977. The Arts of Ghana. Los
Angeles: Museum of Cultural History, UCLA.
Courlander, Harold. 1%0. The Drum and the Hoe: The Lifeand
Lore of Haitian People. Berkeley: University of California
Denis, Ferdinand M. 1823. La Guyane: ou histoire, moeurs, usages et costumes des habitants de cette partie de l'Ambrique.
Paris: Nepveu.
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New York:Thames & Hudson.
Herskovits, Melville. 1941. Myth of the Negro Past. Boston:
Beacon Press.
Herskovits, Melville. 1955. Cultural Anthropology. New York:
Herskovits, Melville. 1971. Lifein a Haitian Valley.Garden City,
N.Y: Anchor Books.
Holmes, Peter. 1977. "Alice Bolling and the Quilt Fence," Yale
Hurston, Zora Neal. 1931. "Voodoo in America," Journal of
Hyatt, Henry. 1974. Hoodoo-Conjuration-Witchcraft-Rootwork.
Hannibal, Mo.: Western Publications 4.
Janzen, John and Wyatt McGaffey. 1974. An Anthology of
KongoReligion. Lawrence: The University of Kansas Press.
Kubler, George. 1976. TheShapeof Time.YaleUniversity Press.
Peto, Florence. 1939. Historic Quilts. New York:American Historical Company
Reynolds, Elizabeth. 1978. Southern Comfort.Atlanta; Atlanta
Historical Society
Rodman, Selden. 1973. The Miracleof Haitian Art. New York:
Doubleday & Co.
Stebich, Ute. 1978. Haitian Art. New York:Brooklyn Museum.
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American Folklore Society Bibliographic and Special
Talbot, PA. 1912. In The Shadow of the Bush. London: William
Thompson, Robert Farris. 1974. African Art in Motion. Los
Angeles: University of California Press.
Thompson, Robert Farris. 1977-80. Lectures, Yale University.
Thompson, Robert Farris. 1981. Four Moments of the Sun:
Kongo Art in Two Worlds (with Joseph Cornet). Washington, D.C.: The National Gallery.
Thompson, Robert Farris. 1983. Flash of the Spirit; Africanand
Afro-American Art and Philosophy. New York: Random

Turner, Victor. 1967. The Forest of Symbols. New York: Cornell

University Press.
Twining, Mary 1977. "An Examination of African Retentions
in the Folk Culture of the South Carolina and Georgia Sea
Islands." Ph.D. dissertation, Indiana University
Verger, Pierre and Clement da Cruz. 1969. "MusheHistorique
de Ouidah," Etudes Dahomienes n.s. 13.
Vlach, John Michael. 1978. The Afro-AmericanTraditionin the
DecorativeArts. Cleveland: The Cleveland Museum of Art.
Wahlman, Maude Southwell and John Scully 1982. "Aesthetic Principles in Afro-American Quilts," in Folk Arts and
Crafts, ed. William Ferris. Boston: G.K. Hall.
Welty, Eudora. 1971. One Time, One Place. New York:Random
Wood, Peter. 1974. The Black Majority. New York:W.W. Norton.
H.J. DREWAL,notes, from page 40
1. Fieldwork in 1982 for this study was made possible by a
grant awarded to Margaret Thompson Drewal, John Pemberfor the
ton, and me from the National Endowment
Humanities, a federal agency that supports the study of such
fields as history, art history, philosophy, literature, and languages. In addition, an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship in the
Department of Primitive Art at the Metropolitan Museum of
Art in 1985-86 provided the opportunity for archival research
and writing. I deeply appreciate the support of both institutions. I am also pleased to acknowledge the University of Ife,
Nigeria, for a research affiliation and the Nigerian Museum
for permission to study its archives and collections. Thanks
are especially due Margaret Thompson Drewal for field research assistance, and my Yoruba friends, colleagues, and respondents for providing information and insights concerning the water spirits and the arts in their honor. I dedicate this
essay to the memory of Robert Plant Armstrong, who
explored the depths of Yoruba aesthetic expression.
2. These include Oya of the Niger River, Yemoja of the Ogun
River, Yewa, Oshun, and Oba of the rivers that bear their
names, Osa of the lagoon, and Olokun of the sea, as well as
other important but more localized and less famous ones
found throughout Yorubaland.
3. According to Ijo belief, performances to entertain and
honor the water people were brought by the culture heroine,
Ekineba, who was abducted by the water spirits and taken to
their home where she witnessed their singing, dancing, and
drumming. She later taught these arts to her people, thus
creating the Ekine water-spirit masquerades (Horton 1960;
1963). A longer discussion of artistic traditions of the Delta
and their relationship to Ijebu art history and belief is in preparation.
4. According to Abraham (1958:171-72), ebi connotes guilt,
sin, or untruthfulness, ideas that may have some relationship
to the Ebi rite. There seems to be an overt attempt to release
suppressed concerns, for example when people openly criticize their rulers and elders. Fears about antisocial individuals
also come out into the open in the invocations of death to
wizards and witches. It seems, therefore, that Ebi is a
sanctioned communal rite of catharsis in which the air is literally and figuratively cleared (of negative forces). It is catharsis
in its original Aristotelian sense of "the purifying or relieving
of emotions by art" (Webster's 1966:231). For an excellent account of Ebi-Woro and other Ijebu rites see Ogunba 1967.
5. In one town, at the conclusion of the festival, children
carry woro leaves to the palace where the king blesses them
using the following procedure: they come forward and kneel,
strike two bunches of leaves held in both hands three times
on the ground and three times on their backs, and then hand
them over to the king, who prays as he touches their backs
three times with the leaves.

DANIELJ. CROWLEYis Professor of Anthropologyand Professor of Artat the Universityof
California,Davis, and a memberof the AfricanArts consultingeditorialboard.
currentlya ResearchAssociateat the Universityof Ifewhileon a National
Endowmentforthe Humanitiesgrant,willresumehis AndrewW.MellonFellowshipatthe Metropolitan Museumof Artin January1987.
is presentlya ResearchAssociateatthe University
of Ifewhile
doing fieldworkunder a NationalEndowmentfor the Humanitiesgrant. She will returnto the
inJanuaryto completeworkforherPh.D.
Departmentof PerformanceStudies,NewYorkUniversity,
DANIELMcCALLis ProfessorEmeritusof Anthropologyand Research Associate in the African
Studies Center,Boston University.
PHILIPM. PEEK,Associate Professor of Anthropology,conducted research in Nigeriaand is
teaching anthropologyand folkloreat DrewUniversity.
is Associate Professorand Chairmanof the ArtDepartment,
Universityof CentralFlorida,Orlando.Herpaperis based on a chapterfromherforthcomingbook,
TheArtof Afro-AmericanQuiltmaking.
Directorof the HunterianMuseum,The Universityof Glasgow,was Professorof
AfricanArtat NorthwesternUniversityfrom1966 to 1976.


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